Johnny Dankworth - alto sax, clarinet; Dickie Hawdon - trumpet; Derrick Abbott - trumpet; Stan Palmer - trumpet; Kenny Wheeler - trumpet; Bob Carson - trumpet; Laurie Monk - trombone; Tony Russell - trombone; Danny Elwood - trombone; Garry Brown - trombone; Ron Snyder - trombone, tuba; Alex Leslie - baritone sax, clarinet, flute; Danny Moss - tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; David Lee - piano; Eric Dawson - bass; Kenny Clare - drums
Today he is known as Sir John Phillip William Dankworth, having been knighted in 2006 (the first British jazz musician to receive such an honor). But 50 years, ago he was Johnny Dankworth, British big bandleader. In his first American appearance at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival, Dankworth showed the curious Stateside audience that there was indeed some sophisticated, swinging jazz happening across the pond. The cream of the crop of modern jazz players in the U.K. gravitated to Dankworth's orchestra, which on this particular Friday evening at Freebody Park in Rhode Island revealed its allegiances to Duke Ellington and Count Basie through an invigorating set. This was polished, swinging and powerful music, with some very inventive twists on familiar themes, courtesy of Dankworth's clever arrangements and a string of potent soloists in trumpeters Dickie Hawdon and Kenny Wheeler (later to become a star in his own right with the ECM label), tenor saxophonist Danny Moss, and trombonists Laurie Monk and Tony Russell. (Dankworth's big band had the unusual makeup of five trumpets, five trombones, three reeds and conventional three-piece rhythm section).
They open their July 3rd set with Dankworth's easy-grooving, bluesy original "Firth of Fourths, which is cast in a Basie mode. The shout choruses from the horn section are appropriately extroverted here while the soloists - Hawdon on muted trumpet and Moss on a big, bold toned Coleman Hawkins-ish tenor saxophone - make a big impression with the Newport crowd. Dankworth proves to be a exhilarating soloist himself, as he demonstrates on his lilting, breezy swinger "Caribe" while his "Royal Ascot" is a more urgent flag-waver in a classic Basie vein, featuring some stellar high note trumpet soloing from Wheeler and a swinging piano solo from David Lee. They handle Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" with a touch of elegance in Dankworth's lush voicings on his inventive arrangement. And they swing aggressively on a hard driving number from Count Basie's repertoire, "Doggin' Around," which features another potent alto solo from Dankworth.
"Jones" a relaxed finger popping blues by Clark Terry, has trumpeter Hawdon turning in an animated plunger solo and Lee supplying a refined touch on his piano solo. And they close out their Newport set with a reverential reading of "Take The 'A' Train," the Billy Strayhorn composition made famous by the Duke Ellington Orchestra. As Dankworth tells the Newport crowd before performing this familiar jazz anthem, "This is the signature tune of a program which we listen to a great deal in Europe, Willis Connover's Voice of America show, which spreads the gospel of American jazz all over the world." Dankworth contributes a forcefully swinging, Johnny Hodges-inspired alto sax solo here while Moss turns in a smoky Ben Webster-ish solo on tenor sax. And as the tune ends, emcee Connover gives a special thanks to Dankworth, seeming humbled by the kudos.
Shortly after their debut at Newport, the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra appeared at Birdland in New York City, further spreading the word about this swinging aggregation from the U.K. Dankworth would go on to much acclaim with his orchestra through the '60s, often performing with his vocalist wife, Cleo Laine. His 1964 album The Zodiac Variations, featuring special guests Clarky Terry, Bob Brookmeyer, Zoot Sims, Phil Woods and Lucky Thompson, drew much acclaim both Stateside and abroad. Dankworth became Laine's music director in 1971 and trimmed the band down to 10 pieces, then in the early '80s he formed a touring quintet. From 1984 to 1986, Dankworth was professor of music at Gresham College, London, giving free public lectures while also running the Allmusic summer schools at The Stables in Wavendon, a theatre created by him and his wife in their back garden. He set up his own record label, Qnotes, in 2003, and in more recent years has been involved in writing large, extended works, including jazz violin concerto for soloist Christian and the Nottingham Youth Orchestra, which had its world premiere on March 1, 2008. But back on July 3, 1959, Dankworth was clearly channeling the spirit of Duke Ellington and Count Basie at his triumphant Newport appearance. (Milkowski)