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02 October 2023

British jazz legend John Dankworth dies at 82

Sir John Dankworth was 'one of the totemic figures of British jazz'. (AP)

By Peter Griffiths

Saxophonist Sir John Dankworth, one of the leading figures in British jazz for more than half a century, has died, his agent said this week. He was 82.

The saxophonist worked closely with jazz legends such as Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson during his career. He also wrote the theme for the classic British television series The Avengers.

His wife, the singer Cleo Laine, announced the death from the stage during a concert to mark the 40th anniversary of a music venue they founded next to their home in Buckinghamshire, north of London. The musician, described by Jazzwise magazine as "one of the totemic figures of British jazz", died in a London hospital on Saturday after a short but undisclosed illness.

Stephen Clarke, chairman of the charity that runs The Stables music venue, said in a statement: "It is a fitting tribute that on the day of Sir John's death that we celebrated on stage… with some of the many artists who have performed with Sir John."

Born in Essex, southeast England, in 1927, Dankworth played the clarinet as a boy before entering the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London at 17.

Inspired by the American jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, he switched instruments and soon began composing, arranging and recording music on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1959, Dankworth and his jazz orchestra began touring the United States and they performed with Duke Ellington, who later became a close friend. Over the next decade, he wrote scores for 1960s films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Modesty Blaise. One of his most famous pieces of work was the theme for The Avengers, the British spy drama starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg.

Dankworth, knighted in 2006 for services to music, met Laine in 1950 during auditions for his band. They married eight years later and had two children, Alec and Jacqui, both jazz musicians. (Reuters)


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