In Memory Of Sir John Dankworth 1927-2010
by otmg on Monday 8th February
In August 2004 singer Jacqui Dankworth was booked to perform at the Chalkpit at the Jazz Picnic in aid of The Neurofibromatosis Association. She was due to bring Trumpeter Lynley Hamilton with her but a week before the Picnic rang me to say that Lynley had problems with his lip and wouldn’t be appearing. She felt bad at letting me down and I said it wasn’t a problem – I’d get a dep!
At such short notice this proved impossible so I let her know, two days before the Picnic that we’d manage with Richard and his Quartet and no second instrumentalist. She said, replied that “I hate to let you down –hang on a minute – I’ll ask my Dad!” Two minutes later she said –“ Don’t worry – Dad’ll do it”!! I relayed this to Richard ( then 18!) who promptly choked on his curry on realising that he was to perform with the great Sir John Dankworth.
On the evening of the Picnic – just before all was due to start a large chauffeur driven car made it’s way slowly down the field and stopped behind the stage. The great man emerged in floral shirt and panama at a jaunty angle and said to the young Quartet – “You open while I warm up!” Richard led the opening number, and was delighted to be told on John joining him on stage – “You’re like Bix Beidebecke – you can’t ever play a wrong note!” Praise indeed! Then he began to play. His phenomenal skill and versatility combined with his creativity were matchless on the up tempo numbers and the two saxes traded witty musical repartee. Here it should be said that many a lesser older musician would try to upstage the youngster but John inspired rather than attempting to outplay. When he accompanied his daughter on her vocal numbers his restraint and sensitivity, matched only by his glorious sound and his intricate use of harmony when soaring on the solo passages were proof that this man’s reputation was justly deserved and the words “Inspired” and “Genius” were not overstating the case.
The audience loved it. My lasting memory was of Jacqui in the break, preparing him a plate of healthy chicken and salad from the buffet I had provided for the musicians. John, spotting a large bowl of Eton Mess said “I’ll have some of that instead please“ and on finishing beamed at me and said “Good fun this gig – have you got any more pud – good grub that!" and devouring another plate of cream, meringue and raspberries!!
When the evening ended to deafening applause I thanked him profusely for honouring us with his presence and he said “No problem – I enjoyed it” What a star. He will be sorely missed both as a great musician and a great human being. Our thoughts are with Jacqui, Dame Cleo and his family.