Saxophonist composed music for film, TV

LONDON – John Dankworth, the British jazz composer, saxophonist and band leader, has died. He was 82.

Jazz singer Cleo Laine — who married Dankworth in 1958 after meeting during an audition for a spot with his band — announced her husband’s death before the finale of an anniversary concert at The Stables, the theater they founded together.

Monica Ferguson, the theater’s chief executive officer, said Sunday that Laine believed Dankworth would have wanted the evening to go ahead.

Ferguson said Laine told the artists before the concert, “‘I’ll go on and I’ll have a lump in my throat and I might crack.’ But she didn’t crack.”

Dankworth died Saturday in a London hospital after several months illness.

Born in Woodford, Essex in 1927, Dankworth began his musical career by playing a clarinet bought by his mother.

“I loved music, but I didn’t want to be taught music, or learn anything, until my parents gave me up for lost, really, and that was when I was about 15,” he told the BBC. “Then I eventually just heard some jazz.”

After starting out as a fan of Benny Goodman, Dankworth switched to the saxophone after hearing Charlie Parker play. In the early 1950s, Dankworth was auditioning singers to front his ensemble when he met Laine. They married and had a son, Alec, and daughter Jacqui — both jazz musicians who played the anniversary concert on Saturday evening.

Laine was made a dame in 1997, and Dankworth was knighted in 2006 by Queen Elizabeth II for services to music.

Along with performing and composing — his film score credits include”Darling,” “Modesty Blaise” and the theme of television’s “The Avengers” — Dankworth worked as musical director for jazz greats, including Oscar Peterson, Nat “King” Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, according to The Stables Web site.

Together, Dankworth and Laine founded The Wavendon Allmusic Plan, a musical education charity, and established a theater in 1969 in the old stable block on their property in Wavendon, Buckinghamshire, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of London.

Each year, about 350 concerts are held at The Stables, along with school concerts, youth music camps and family events.

A second charity, the Wavendon Foundation, was established in 1999 to help young artists and organizations needing financial aid.

Ferguson said Dankworth was “absolutely driven by a real … passion for music, passion for excellence, and passion for sharing the joys of music with everyone, particularly young people.”

Funeral arrangements have not yet been completed.

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