I had the privilege of meeting British musical legend Johnny Dankworth and his wife Cleo Laine when they visited my hometown of Invercargill in southern New Zealand in 1994. I drew this black biro sketch, which he really liked, and he happily signed it for me. I gave him the original.
Knighted in 2006, Sir John Phillip William Dankworth was considered a pioneer of modern jazz and leading composer of film music. A superb instrumentalist, Johnny was one of the first British musicians to witness and then to explore the new avant-garde style of jazz, bebop, that emerged from New York after the Second World War.
He established The Stables at Wavendon, a charity that has provided education and opportunity for generations of young musicians. He also instigated the Jazz Course at the Royal Academy of Music, an area of study common in such institutions now, but highly controversial in classical circles at the time. As Johnny put it, “to say that jazz was divided about the validity and desirability of bebop would be seriously understating the case. It would be like saying that Americans were a tiny bit cross with the Japanese after Pearl Harbour”.
Sir John passed away in 2010 aged 82. His final appearance on the stage was a solo performance for the London Jazz Festival at the Royal Albert Hall in December 2009, playing his sax form a wheelchair.