John Dankworth - alto sax, clarinet; Dick Griffin - trombone; Sonny Russo - trombone; Jimmy Nottingham - trumpet; Red Rodney - trumpet; Joe Gardner - trumpet; Dandy Stiles - trumpet; Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis - tenor sax; Frank Wess - tenor sax, flute; Cecil Payne - baritone sax; Paul Hart - piano, Fender Rhode electric piano; Brian Torff - bass; Kenny Clare - drums
A national treasure in his native England, the late Sir John Phillip William Dankworth made his Newport Jazz Festival debut back in 1959 on a night that also featured the Thelonious Monk Quartet, the Modern Jazz Quartet, the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet and the Oscar Peterson Trio. He returned 16 years later, after impresario George Wein had moved his annual summer clambake from Newport, Rhode Island to the Big Apple. In this Avery Fisher Hall concert, the acclaimed saxophonist-composer-bandleader rolled out his first-ever American band, which included such 'ringers' as tenor sax aces Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Frank Wess, trumpeter Red Rodney, trombonist Dick Griffin and baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne.
They open their July 3rd set with "Modesty Blaise," theme song from the 1966 movie that Dankworth wrote the soundtrack for (he had previously composed the theme song a few years earlier from the hit television show, The Avengers). The tight, contrapuntal horn lines intertwine nicely on the theme against the funky drumming of Kenny Clare before the solo section begins. Dankworth solos first on alto sax, exhibiting pungent tones and potent, swaggering lines. He is followed by Paul Hart, who solos fluently over the changes on Fender Rhodes. Next up in the program is "East St. Louis Boogaloo," a bluesy Ellington-meets-Mingus influenced number that showcases Dankworth's command of the idiom. Trombonist Dick Griffin, a former member of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's band, turns in an outstanding solo here and is followed by a humorous, highly animated plunger solo from trumpeter Jimmy Nottingham. Pianist Paul Hart establishes the lush mood on "Kite Flight," a quartet number that showcases Dankworth's more lyrical side on alto sax. Hart switches to Fender Rhodes after the piano intro and later delivers a harmonically adventurous solo against the intricate rhythmic hookup of electric bassist Brian Toff and drummer Clare (who appeared in Dankworth's band for their gala 1959 debut at the Newport Jazz Festival). The full band returns for a rousing Basie-esque shuffle blues number that highlights "Lockjaw" Davis on a typically robust tenor solo.
"Round Table Round" is a dynamic and challenging 7/4 vehicle that features extended solos from Frank Wess on flute, Red Rodney on trumpet and Clare on drums. Pianist Hart, a talented doubler, is featured on violin on the sinewy funk number "Long John," on which he trades nimble lines with Dankworth's alto sax before turning in a virtuosic solo. Bassist Torff also stretches out on an accomplished electric bass solo here. The full band returns for a gorgeous reading of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," featuring some unusual voicings in the horns on the intro before Dankworth tackles the familiar melody with his soaring, singing alto sax. They close out the set in dynamic fashion with "Paganini in Perpetuo," a jazzy quartet interpretation of Niccolo Paganini's famous "Caprice No. 24," which showcases pianist Hart, bassist Torff, drummer Clare and the leader on clarinet, all stretching out considerably on that familiar classical theme.
Dankworth would continue to play through the '70s with a scaled-down 10-piece band, often in support of his wife, vocalist Cleo Laine. From 1984 to 1986, he was professor of music at Gresham College, London, giving free public lectures while also running the Allmusic Plan, an arts center they established in a converted stable on the grounds of their home in Wavendon, Buckinghamshire. It is there that they established the annual Wavendon Garden Season, a program of summer events staged under a canopy in the Dankworths' garden. In 1985, Dankworth also founded the London Symphony Orchestra's Summer Pops, with which he continued to be associated as Artistic Director until 1990. He set up his own record label, Qnotes, in 2003, and subsequently became involved in writing large, extended works, including a jazz violin concerto for soloist Christian and the Nottingham Youth Orchestra, which had its world premiere on March 1, 2008. Among his many awards for his achievements in jazz and services to England, his most coveted was Knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen in 2006. Sir John Dankworth died on February 6, 2010 at age 82.
Born in Woodford, Esssex on September 20, 1927, Dankworth had violin and piano lessons before settling eventually on the clarinet at the age of 16 after hearing a recording of the Benny Goodman Quartet. Inspired by Johnny Hodges, he switched to alto saxophone while studying at London's Royal Academy of Music from 1944-1946. In 1949, Dankworth attended the Paris Jazz Festival and played with jazz legend Charlie Parker. Shortly after, he toured Sweden briefly with another jazz legend, soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet. In 1950, he formed his first small group, The Dankworth Seven, then in 1953 formed his first big band. Their appearance at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival was hailed by a New York Times critic for its "swinging drive, harmonic color and the support in depth for soloists that is possible when a disciplined, imaginatively directed band has worked together for a long time."
In 1958, Dankworth married Cleo Laine, the featured singer in his band. They continued to perform together for the next 50 years.
-Written by Bill Milkowski