British jazz legend John Dankworth dies at 82

Sun Feb 7, 2010 6:53am EST
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By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - Saxophonist Sir John Dankworth, one of the leading figures in British jazz for more than half a century, has died, his agent said Sunday. He was 82.

The saxophonist worked closely with jazz legends like Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson and composed the music for a string of films and television programs.

His wife, the singer Cleo Laine, announced the death from the stage during a concert to mark the 40th anniversary of a music venue they founded next to their home in Buckinghamshire, north of London.

The musician, described by Jazzwise magazine as "one of the totemic figures of British jazz," died in a London hospital on Saturday after a short but undisclosed illness.

Stephen Clarke, chairman of the charity that runs The Stables music venue, said in a statement: "It is a fitting tribute that on the day of Sir John's death that we celebrated on stage...with some of the many artists who have performed with Sir John."

Seen as Britain's first international jazz musician, he influenced generations of British performers. Singer Jamie Cullum said Dankworth was a "genius."

"A great man and one of our finest musicians and composers has died," he wrote on his Twitter page. "Rest in peace, Sir."

Born in Essex, southeast England, in 1927, Dankworth played the clarinet as a boy before entering the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London at 17.   Continued...