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Sir John Dankworth dies

'Jazz royalty' and creator of The Avengers theme passes away aged 82

  • 07/02/2010
  • Georgie Rogers
John Dankworth

Saxophonist Sir John Dankworth, who served as the musical director to the likes of Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, has died.

As well as numerous film scores, he composed infamous television theme tunes for Tomorrow’s World and The Avengers, winning an Ivor Novello award for the latter.

His wife, singer Dame Cleo Laine, announced the news at a concert last night (6 Feb) in the grounds of their home in Wavendon, Buckinghamshire.

Jazz singer Jamie Cullum has called him a “genius”.

Paying tribute on Twitter, he posted the comment: "Sir John Dankworth, a great man and one of our finest musicians and composers, has died. Rest in peace Sir."

Appointed CBE in 1974, the musician was knighted in 2006 and broadcaster Paul Gambaccini said: “He was a lifer. He was someone totally devoted to music and he just lived it in its various forms.”

"Although he [John Dankworth] was physically frail, he played at peak form and he was full of wit and good grace."

Paul Gambaccini

Gambaccini hosted the BBC Jazz Awards two years ago at which Dankworth and his wife were honoured with life-time contributions.

“Although he was physically frail, he played at peak form and he was full of wit and good grace,” he explained. “The rapport between those two was so moving. It was a true case of human partnership.”

Not only will he be remembered for his musical legacy, Dankworth and Laine founded the charity, the Wavendon Allmusic Plan, in 1969.

It led them to build The Stables theatre, for young people's education, on their property 40 years ago.

Speaking about Dankworth’s legacy, BBC Jazz On 3 presenter Jez Nelson told 6 Music: “He really was British jazz royalty. He was, I guess, the first British jazz figure to be taken really seriously and to build a reputation outside of the UK.

“He was also a fantastic composer. He leaves a great body of work, music that he wrote and arranged, and he was a great saxophonist of course.”

Adding: “Beyond that he was really quite committed to education. He put a lot of time, money and effort into every new generation that came along.”

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