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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 December 2005, 00:03 GMT
John Dankworth's life of jazz
John Dankworth
Dankworth has two children with his wife, Dame Cleo Laine
John Dankworth, who has been knighted in the New Year Honours List, has been a leading light of the British jazz scene for more than half a century.

Born in London in 1927, the young Dankworth had violin and piano lessons before taking up the clarinet and alto saxophone.

By the age of 17 he had won a place at the Royal Academy of Music. After years of studying and a short spell in the Army, he was voted British Musician of the Year in 1949.

The same year he attended the Paris Jazz Festival, where he played with the legendary Charlie Parker.

In 1950 he formed the Dankworth Seven, meeting his future wife, Dame Cleo Laine, while auditioning for singers.

The couple married in 1958, by which time he had swapped his seven-piece for a big band orchestra.

Film scores

The ensemble had two top 10 hits - Experiments with Mice in 1956 and African Waltz in 1961 - and played numerous engagements in the US. A 1959 visit saw them sharing the bill with jazz giant Duke Ellington.

In the 1960s Dankworth composed the scores for such films as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Servant and Modesty Blaise.

Cleo Laine and John Dankworth
They were made doctors of music by Cambridge University in 2004
He also wrote the theme tune for The Avengers and served as musical director for Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.

In 1969 he and Laine founded their charity, the Wavendon Allmusic Plan, which led to the establishment of the Stables arts centre in the grounds of their Buckinghamshire home.

A sign of their continuing popularity came when he and his wife were spoofed by the Two Ronnies in 1983.

Dankworth was made a CBE in 1974 and founded the London Symphony Orchestra Summer Pops in 1985.

In 1993 he formed another large orchestra, the Dankworth Generation Band, with his son Alec. He continues to lead his own quintet and tour with Laine.

He is a fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and received the Freedom of the City of London in 1994.

"It's so nice for jazz to get something like this," the 78-year-old said on Friday. "As far as I know I'm the first from the jazz world to get a knighthood.

"I've played jazz for 65 years, with the great jazz men," he continued. "For some reason I've been in the right place at the right time."


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