Johnny Dankworth’s ‘50s Band Cooks in New Reissue

Dankworth front

ENGLAND’S AMBASSADOR OF JAZZ / HAWDON: Tribute to Chauncey. Kool Kate. LINDUP: Slo Twain. New Forest. DANKWORTH: Sunflower. Honey-Dew Melon. International. Specs Yellow. Desperate Dan. DANKWORTH-LINDUP: Dauphine Blues. T. RUSSELL: Joe and Lol / Dickie Hawdon, Derek Abbott, Stan Palmer, Colin Wright, Bob Carson, tpt; Laurie Monk, Tony Russell, Danny Elwood, Garry Brown, tbn; Ron Snyder, tbn/tuba; Johnny Dankworth, a-sax/cl; Danny Moss, t-sax/bs-cl; Alex Leslie, bar-sax/cl/fl; Dave Lee, pn; Eric Dawson, bs; Kenny Clare, dm / Avid Entertainment 191018904326

This is a reissue of a once-famous, classic album by the Johnny Dankworth band, made shortly before they packed up their instruments and headed to the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival where they created a sensation. Many websites give the year of recording as 1958, and one says 1960, but I got this into from http://henrybebop.co.uk/dankwort.htm and the info there is so complete and thorough that I accept the recording dates given there as May 12, 13 & 19, 1959. The album was originally issued in the UK on Columbia 33SX1280 and in America on Roulette R 52040 (an American label run by the Mafia, FYI) in their “Birdland” series. It sold very well in both countries. To the best of my knowledge, this is its first appearance on CD.

Dankworth and saxist Ronnie Scott were the harbingers of progressive swing and bop in England, which during the 1950s and ‘60s was still pretty much in thrall with Dixieland. The really popular bands in the U.K. during those years were those of Chris Barber (still alive as of this writing), Humphrey Lyttleton, Acker Bilk, etc., although Dankworth’s famed jazz septet of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, nicknamed “The Seven,” was also very popular. When he formed his first big band in 1953, The Seven was the central part of the orchestra, a blended section of trumpet, trombone, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax and tuba. By the time of this album and his Newport gig he had revamped his lineup somewhat. Dickie Hawdon, an outstanding soloist, became the lead trumpeter, much to the dismay of Dankworth fans who felt that he didn’t have a strong enough tone to play lead. Nonetheless, the music herein is truly sensational in every way.

Dankworth backThe music here is molded to some extent on the cool jazz charts that Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans, Shorty Rogers and other Americans had written for the bands of Claude Thornhill, Elliott Lawrence, Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton. The sound is rooted in low saxes and, more often than not, trumpets playing in a lower, more mellow range. And there is no question that the band could swing; just listen to the outstanding performance here of David Lindup’s Slo Twain for an example of what I mean. Muted trumpets split the melody with low saxes and trombones, and the occasional, deft use of counterpoint completes the arrangement in a satisfying way, despite the lack (here) of a great solo turn. Moreover, the various writers for this album—Lindup, Hawdon, Tony Russell and Dankworth himself—maintain a certain integrity of style that is both pleasing and engaging for the mind. Dave Lee’s relaxed, slightly meandering single-note solo in Sunflower, followed in turn by Hawdon and Danny Moss, is a good indication of how well each member of this band was attuned to each other and to the ensemble as a whole. “Relaxed brilliance” is a perfect description of this entire program.

Dankworth himself doesn’t really assert himself until the dramatic, drum-laden introduction to Dauphine Blues, continuing after the brass interjection with a solo quite evidently influenced by Lee Konitz, but with a tone slightly sweeter. This is also a much more aggressive tune than the first three on the album, as is the succeeding Honey-Dew Melon with a great tenor spot by Moss and an even better one by Hawdon. Tony Russell’s Joe and Lol is a more relaxed, laid-back piece in a nice medium tempo, featuring a splendid trombone solo (unfortunately unidentified) and a nice flute solo with strong bass underpinning by Alex Leslie.

Indeed, as the album progresses you begin to understand why this band was so good. Everyone “felt” each other’s playing to the extent that they listened carefully to what player X was doing before they embarked on their own solos, and in turn the soloists were listening to the ensemble and what it was doing. These performances, then, have a kind of completeness about them that a great many jazz big bands. past and present, simply do not achieve…and this despite the fact that Lee’s instrument has a thin, almost klunky sound, as if it were a piano in the back room of a bar (who knows? Maybe it was!). And it’s not a case of “follow the leader,” good as Dankworth was, because Johnny doesn’t dominate the solo space. In Kool Kate he drops in for a chorus or two in the middle, then splits. In other numbers he doesn’t play at all. And the band almost sounds as if were “dancing in place” in their seats.

New Forest has a slightly dark sound to it despite the use of clarinet and muted trumpet playing the simple theme in the beginning. I wonder if this piece was in some way a tribute to Reginald Foresythe, who had died the year before, and whose Deep Forest was such an popular and influential tune back in the 1930s. On Specs Yellow Dankworth is the dominant soloist in the first half, but then turns things over to a trombonist, and the trombone section as a whole shines in the last few choruses, aided by nice blasts from the trumpet section. The finale, Desperate Dan, is a medium-slow number based on Louis Armstrong’s theme song, When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, but so transformed that it sounds like a completely original piece. Danny Moss’ warm, Ben Webster-ish tenor sax is the dominant solo voice here.

In later years, of course, both Dankworth and his orchestra became better known to Americans as accompaniment to his wife, the great jazz singer Cleo Laine, at which time he pretty much gave up playing instrumentals like these, but to his credit he didn’t mind. He felt he had had his turn in the spotlight, and now it was her turn, but in exchange for her powerful voice and stage presence we lost this superb band with its unique sound. This is an album to treasure.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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2 thoughts on “Johnny Dankworth’s ‘50s Band Cooks in New Reissue

  1. Anita Scorer (nee Russell). says:

    For the writer of the review of the record Lynn Ren’e Bayley and to all those intersted in the early Jazz scene. On the new release Sep. 19th 2017, reissue of Johnny Dankworth’s 50’s band, you say you do not know who is playing the Trombone solo in Joe and Lol’s Blues. , it may well be my father Tony Russell, He played the trombone and composed this piece . He died in 1970, I will do some research and find out. I would love, if he did, for this to be acknowledged.

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