Tuesday, January 11, 2011

All What Jazz*

Just a few weeks before my mother died in early June 1998, the news of Frank Sinatra's death was announced. Though I didn't have a chance to speak to her about it, I imagine that the news must have made the world seem that much colder, more foreign to her - that much less like the world she once knew. So age prepares us for death, since we experience the passing of so many people who were alive when we were young, who were a part of the fabric of our lives, even if we never knew them.

John Philip William Dankworth, otherwise known as Johnny Dankworth, died almost a year ago. As usual for one, like me, who lives in The Sticks, I didn't learn of his death until I saw a BBC retrospective in the last week of 2010. I only ever heard of him because of some of the memorable film scores he composed in the '60s. Like most European jazz musicians, he was practically unknown in the States, despite once sharing a stage with Duke Ellington. Like baseball, jazz is considered an American idiom, even if there are many great players from many other countries.

Dankworth was the husband of Cleo Laine, celebrated for her jazz singing on both sides of the Atlantic. (I never cared for her singing.) Philip Larkin described him as "dandyish, witty, occasionally tender," words that could easily describe his music. His film and television scores include a few that are unforgettable:
The Avengers, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Servant, Darling, Morgan, Accident, and a couple of Stanley Baker films, Perfect Friday and The Last Grenade.

Again, I apologize for the belatedness of this posthumous tribute. How many more will I have to write in the coming years?

* I stole my title from Philip Larkin's splendid book of writings on jazz, All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1961-71.

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