Monday, 8 February 2010


JOHN DANKWORTH, jazz musician, composer, mentor and teacher died on Saturday hours before a concert to celebrate 40 years of the theatre he and his wife had started was due to take to the stage.

All the tickets were sold, co-stars Prunella Scales and Timothy West, Maureen Lipman, Victoria Wood and Paul O’Grady were rehearsed and ready to go, and the star of the show, John’s wife, Cleo Laine, decided that her husband would have wanted the show to go on.

And so it went on. Cleo, with her two children, who are also jazz musicians, showed incredible bravery performing as if nothing had happened. Only at t
he end of the show, when John, who had been ill for some time, was supposed to perform himself, did Cleo come out and tell the audience the sad news.


John Dankworth was one of England’s finest musicians, finding fame and a huge following too in the home of jazz, America, where he had been musical director for performers as distinguished as Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole. He composed many well known radio, tv and film themes including “The Avengers” and “Tomorrow’s World”, as well as producing innovative works with Cleo which involved integrating jazz with poetry and famously with Shakespeare. He had been ill for some time but was still expected to perform at the concert.

He and Cleo started the theatre and school for jazz musicians “The Stables” in the grounds of their home in Wavedon near Milton Keynes. He had put so much planning into the 40th anniversary concert that Cleo and their children felt that it was important that out of respect for the audience and for John himself “the show must go on”.

Jamie Cullum, the jazz singer, paid tribute to the musician on his Twitter page, calling him a genius. Nice tribute from another amazing artiste, and one I echo. But this article is as much a tribute to Cleo Laine and her family for finding the strength to pay the biggest tribute imaginable to John... performing his concert on the day of his death.


  1. I was never a Dankworth fan, thought Louis did it far better but I did enjoy them as a double act.

    He'd been ill for sometime so I should think the concert was 'therapy' for them maybe.

  2. I wouldn't exactly say I was a fan either SR, but I admire that fact that they went on with the show and didn't tell anyone until the end when John was on the programme to perform. Apparently there was a meet with the performers afterwards and Cleo and her kids were there, and so maybe there was some therapy.

    I can imagine Cleo thinking how absolutely furious John would be to hear that his concert had been cancelled because he had died. And I guess she did what she has always done; she sang.

    I dunno if I like her much as a performer, but as a musical person myself I certainly was blown away by the incredible range of her voice and the things she can do with it.