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Page last updated at 17:08 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

The music of our memories



Johnny Dankworth's death reminds us that music, once the realm of the wealthy and educated, is an integral part of every well-balanced life, writes Lisa Jardine.

Marcel Proust persuaded us that simply by nibbling on a small, scallop-shaped madeleine cake dipped in tea, one might involuntarily recall the sensory experiences of an entire childhood.

But I have always found music to lodge particularly deeply in the memory and to stimulate the richest and most intense recollections. A snatch of an overheard melody will have me humming a song or a symphony for the rest of the day.

A track from an album - for those of you who can remember such things - can trigger with eerie precision, involuntary memories of times past.

Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth
Voice and saxophone: the first couple of British jazz

Last weekend Cleo Laine, that most virtuoso of jazz vocalists, announced the death of her husband, the great jazz saxophonist and band leader Johnny Dankworth.

She did so onstage, just before the finale of the concert they had planned together to mark the 40th anniversary of The Stables venue in Wavendon that they had created together in 1969.

The venue manager paid tribute to the decision of Dame Cleo and her two jazz musician children to perform.

"She felt that it was really important to go ahead with the show. She wanted to maintain a sense of the concert being a celebration. The sheer grit and will of the family, to go on in those circumstances, was astounding."

The snatches of Dankworth's compositions, played the following day along with the tributes, brought musical recollections flooding back to me.

Jazz was the music of my growing up

Jazz was the music of my growing up. If we could convince the doorman of the Marquee Club we were old enough, we could eke out a couple of drinks for a long night's listening, and bop till almost dawn to the Johnny Dankworth orchestra, or Humphrey Lyttelton, or Tubby Hayes.

But it is Cleo Laine scat singing with Dankworth I have had running round in my head all week, lobbing the melody backwards and forwards between them in numbers like It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing).

Laine's astonishingly flexible voice was a perfect match for Dankworth's melodic saxophone, dashing upwards into its highest register, then swooping downwards to echo full-bloodedly its lowest notes, no lyrics to distract, but just the achingly pure sound of the voice itself.

Cleo Laine has always insisted that no musician, however naturally gifted, could succeed without encouragement, particularly from teachers.

"At my school in Southall," she said, "there was a teacher there who saw, or rather heard, I had some sort of talent and nurtured it. You have to have those sorts of people who will give you confidence."

In Dankworth's case it was his mother who recognised and encouraged his musical talents. He fell in love with the clarinet at the age of 16, after hearing a record of the Benny Goodman Quartet, and then, inspired by Johnny Hodges, transferred his affections to the alto saxophone, and she made sure he took proper lessons.

Musical dreaming

Music lessons have long been regarded by parents as a way of setting their children (they hope) on the pathway to success.

Sir Constantijn Huygens, secretary to the Dutch Stadholder - or head of state - in the first half of the 17th Century, was on his first diplomatic mission to London in the early 1620s, when he caught the attention of the English King James I by playing excellently on the lute in his presence.

James promptly knighted the young Dutchman. Not surprisingly then, as soon as Huygens's own children were old enough, their father made sure that they too had musical skills that would help them get on in court circles.

Playing chamber music was part of a genteel upbringing

In July 1638, Huygens wrote from The Hague to one of his well-connected cousins in London to say that he was anxious to purchase a good-quality consort or chest of viols - a collection of stringed instruments of various sizes and ranging from bass to treble.

The cousin sought the advice of the leading musician at the English court, Nicholas Lanier. Within weeks, Lanier had located "a consort of six old viols, the most excellent one could possibly find", and recommended them.

The price was, however, Huygens's cousin wrote, unacceptably high. "They are asking an outlandish price, in my opinion, that is to say, 30 pounds sterling. So I need to know as soon as possible what to do, and your last word as to what should be my highest offer. Please reply promptly to my father-in-law's house in London."

Four months on, the cousin let Huygens know that the outcome of his extended negotiations concerning the musical instruments had been successful. One of Huygens's oldest English friends, Lady Mary Killigrew, a considerable chamber musician, had helped him by examining the viols herself, and had confirmed them to be "extremely excellent and rare, and well worth the price asked".

Between them they had succeeded in getting the price down to 27-and-a-half pounds sterling, plus "a grey Holland beaver hat" thrown in - a fashionable piece of headgear depicted in at least one of Vermeer's paintings.

The fragile musical instruments were on their way to Huygens, in a custom-made packing case. The total shipping price was eight shillings, which included a trusted carrier to deliver the precious cargo safely to Huygens's door. Would Huygens please send the hat as soon as the viols had arrived, and he judged them to be to his satisfaction?

Lisa Jardine
A Point of View, with Lisa Jardine, is on Fridays on Radio 4 at 2050 GMT and repeated on Sundays at 0850 GMT
Or listen to it here later

All this elaborate international bargaining and effort, it turns out, was part of the arrangements to begin the formal music education of Huygens's two eldest children, Constantijn and Christiaan, aged 10 and nine respectively at the time. In early 1639, Huygens recorded in his journal:

"On the 6 March I arranged for Christiaan to begin lessons on the Viola de Gamba, and to that purpose acquired a Consort from England, at a cost of 300 guilders. And the children applied themselves so assiduously to playing the instruments, and made such good progress, that in only a week Christiaan had perfected the melody of the 117th Psalm."

Christiaan, he added, was showing significantly more aptitude musically than his older brother.

This was music training as a means to preferment. Christiaan Huygens went on to become a distinguished scientist, while his older brother came to England with William III in 1688, as his personal secretary. Neither pursued their music except recreationally. But the ability to perform as part of a chamber music ensemble, in Dutch drawing rooms, formed part of their genteel upbringing.

Children benefit from early music education

The Huygens story made me feel the need to acknowledge something like the same strategy in my own family. In the 1980s a talented graduate student of mine got into financial difficulties and decided he had to sell his trumpet to make ends meet. Anxious to help, I bought it.

"What should I do with it?" I asked a university colleague the next day at lunch. "Don't you have a daughter?" was his response. That was how my nine-year-old daughter began trumpet lessons, and became the enthusiastic musician she is today.

It was jazz, though, that kindled her lasting love of her instrument. During a semester spent at Princeton High School in the United States, she became a member of the school jazz ensemble, under the direction of the charismatic Mr B.

It was during that visit too that we went to one of Dizzy Gillespie's last concerts, and she heard virtuoso trumpeter Wynton Marsalis play.

Lasting love

Sir John Dankworth and Dame Cleo Laine - both were honoured for their services to music - wanted to take music out of the privileged milieu of Huygens and - to a lesser extent - myself.

They believed it ought to be available to everyone. They used their fame, and the thrill their playing gave to their audiences to generate a grass roots movement in music.

In 1970, at the height of their careers as performers, they set up their Wavendon AllMusic Plan at The Stables to encourage people of all ages, levels of ability and backgrounds to participate in music-making activities. Its events were in every way inclusive, crossing traditional barriers by bringing jazz, rock, pop, classical, and world music together.

Their National Youth Music camps welcomed young people from throughout the UK and abroad, to pitch their tents in the grounds of their home and enjoy intensive music-making.

They still offer everything from orchestral playing to jazz improvisation, from harmonica sessions to steel band performance, and from music theatre production to recorder and rock ensembles. Generations of young musicians cherish their memories of those galvanising and accessible events.

As the world mourns the loss of Johnny Dankworth and the bewitching sound of his saxophone, we can at least be sure that his musical legacy will live on.

Below is a selection of your comments.

A piano in every parlour, a band in every inn - surely it was only with the advent of recorded music in the 20th Century that participation in live music STOPPED being part of everyone's life?
Ian Kemmish, Biggleswade

Lisa Jardine reminds me of the peculiar fact that, as a physicist, I have rarely found scientific colleagues who were not musicians. From Einstein, discoverer of relativity and a (moderate) violinist, to Werner Heisenberg, a creator of quantum mechanics but also a distinguished pianist, the roll call is impressive, with also chemists getting in on the act (Borodin was a chemist). Among my own small group of collaborators, one (a pianist) is also a published transcriber of piano rarities; another an accomplished violinist, while yet another composes waltzes for piano in the Johann Strauss style. I myself have been a semi-pro jazz trumpeter for some part of my life. It is not unusual to find groups of scientists gather at conferences to play music. However, I have never heard of groups of musicians assemble to "do physics" - which seems to indicate who the true renaissance figures of our time are.
Allan Solomon, Watford, UK

I grew up in the UK in the 50s and 60s and listening to Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Lane was one of my first experiences listening to jazz, followed quickly with Humphrey Lyttelton. I thought how amazing it was that two people like Johnny and Cleo had found each other, and shared such a love and talent, producing some of the best jazz of the time. Thanks for all the amazing memories of my teen years.
MarionMarion Lee, Comox, BC, Canada

I'm related to Constantijn Huygens on my mother's side. Nearly 400 years after he played for James I, music still plays a huge part in my family.
Odilon Marcenaro, Cardiff, UK

I have been living and playing jazz here in Strasbourg for last few years hosting a jam session and the demographics of my audience are very wide - anywhere from 18 - 70 yrs of age. I find they are very much interested in this music, and indeed the live experience of it, which given their background for the last 30 yrs of self-applied entertainment (video games, iPod, etc) seems fresh in their eyes. The music offers spontaneity and spirit all in a socially conducive atmosphere.
Rick Hannah, Strasbourg, France

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