Written by Grant Jackson from NPR
Piano Jazz remembers John Dankworth with a special session recorded before a live audience at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. A saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, arranger and bandleader, Dankworth and his wife and longtime musical partner, singer Cleo Laine, appeared on the program in 1998, along with host Marian McPartland and bassist Jeff Campbell. Dankworth enjoyed a long career as one of England’s most celebrated jazz musicians. He played with Charlie Parker in the 1940s, toured with Sidney Bechet and went on to work closely with Duke Ellington. He also worked as a film composer and wrote the theme to the British TV series The Avengers. Dankworth died earlier this year; he was 82.
In this session, the group gets things rolling with “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.” Cleo Laine opens the tune with the verse before Dankworth takes a soaring bebop solo on alto sax; the couple gets into instant interplay as Laine’s voice is complemented by Dankworth’s horn.
“That’s the result of painstaking rehearsal,” Dankworth says. “Actually, about 20 minutes’ worth!”
After a half-century working together, Dankworth and Laine have got it down as well as any husband-and-wife team in the business. Along with McPartland, these two musicians are among the limited coterie of English jazz musicians honored by the Order of the British Empire: Cleo Laine was made a Dame in 1997 (Lady Dankworth, to be exact), John Dankworth was knighted in 2006, and just this month, McPartland was made an Officer of the Order.
A McPartland original follows, “In the Days of Our Love,” with a lyric penned by Peggy Lee. McPartland accompanies as Laine quaveringly delivers the smoldering lyric to this torch song. McPartland follows with a duet on “Like Someone in Love,” with bassist Jeff Campbell.
As a thoughtful arranger and programmer, Dankworth carefully planned each set.
“We look on the program as a whole and try to vary things without compromising our music,” Dankworth says. “We want to keep the audience interested without too many people falling asleep, because that’s embarrassing.”
The show continues with his bluesy arrangement of “Fine and Mellow.” Laine’s big voice and incredible range on this Billie Holiday tune are punctuated with Dankworth’s willowy alto, and the tune is followed by a jumping take on “T’ain’t What You Do, It’s the Way That You Do It.”
“Stompin’ at the Savoy” showcases Dankworth’s chops and ability to lead the rhythm section. And in “How High the Moon,” he leads in with a bouncing solo before Laine smoothly improvises a few free lines in place of the verse before getting into a scat solo that, along with support from Dankworth’s horn, segues seamlessly into the changes to Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.” It’s a spontaneous moment of bebop magic to wrap up this installment of Piano Jazz.
Originally recorded Nov. 2, 1997. Originally broadcast March 26, 1998.