Born: October 28, 1927 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
The showroom at the Suncoast Hotel and Casino, in Las Vegas, Nevada, sparkled brilliantly, the weekend of October 17-19, 2003 with the luminary talent of the legendary British couple, Dame Cleo Laine and John Dankworth. The audience was on the edge of their seats all night with excitement and awe. The jazz composition and sounds that emanated from behind the footlights brought Friday night's audience to their feet as they hailed The Queen of Jazz, and her professional partner and husband with thunderous applause. The lady next to me smiled with pride, as if the legendary performers were her personal treasure. I watched you tapping your feet all night, I'm so glad you enjoyed the performance as much as I did! I've been a fan of theirs for years, and you?
I'm a new fan, and I feel so lucky to be here, wow, what an evening, I enthusiastically replied. The awe and wonder for the evening's incredible jazz experience overwhelmed me. I had never felt such a deep appreciation for being a member of the audience as I did that night. The sounds that emanated from the accomplished jazz duo were only outmatched by the Dankworth quartet of Peter Mcgrop, Gordon Getty, Larry Dunefal, and Sid McKane.
The opening number with John on the saxophone set the pace for the evening. There's nothing like a saxophone's soulful sound when it's mixed with the sassiness of a Mozart jazz moment. Their tribute to the great music of Duke Ellington highlighted by the ballad 'Rainbow Corner' was the same that Duke played at Piccadilly Circus to entertain the troops in 1944. Dame Cleo Laine's memory to Ella Fitzgerald, 'I Gotta Crush on You', was a vocal jazz phenomenon in range and rhythm. Being a first time audience member I wondered, How can she do that with her voice? She had the most finely tuned instrument on stage!
The highlight of the evening for me was the song, 'It Don't Mean a Thing If You Ain't Got that Swing'. Cleo's swing says it all. She is a timeless talent that holds the key to the fountain of youth. Along with this key, in November of 1998, the Queen of England, bestowed the title Dame, the highest honor and accolade to be given to a woman. It is the feminine equivalent to being knighted. This Queen of Jazz, is the only singer ever to receive Grammy Award nominations in the Female Jazz, Popular and Classical categories. She won the Grammy Award for Cleo at Carnegie 10th Anniversary.
In a recent interview, when Cleo was asked about her age, she revealed the secret to her youthful appearance and vitality. I don't feel that I'm in my 70s except early in the morning, Laine said. But when I was 20, I felt 70 in the morning. I have more energy than a lot of young people. Mainly I don't eat junk food. And I love working with young people. It helps keep my creativity alive.
But her inspiration was the great Ella Fitzgerald. She began her friendship with Fitzgerald in 1958. When Laine won her first Grammy in 1985, Fitzgerald sent two dozen roses and a note reading: Congratulations, gal --- and about time, too. --- Love, Ella. Laine finally met Ella when they came to New York City. Although whenever Fitzgerald came to England they'd meet up and say hello, they weren't close friends because Miss Fitzgerald wasn't that easy to get to know. Ella was really a shy person, Dame Cleo revealed.
John and Cleo have been collaborating on and off stage since 1951. That's the year, Cleo got her first big break when she successfully auditioned for the John Dankworth Seven, the acclaimed British jazz band of that era. For seven years, they shared the stage, but he was the featured performer.
She was quoted to have said, It was in 1958 when I decided to be on my own, that he asked me to marry him. He thought he was getting a cheap singer. She is clearly still in love, and their onstage relationship has enriched her off stage life as well.
Not only has he been my musical director, arranger and conductor, but in a lot of ways he has been my manager. He's opened more doors for me than my real managers. John got his singer, and Cleo got her man. It was a marriage made in Jazz heaven.
I was so inspired by this performance at the Suncoast that I went out and bought Cleo Laine's autobiography. I've often wondered how a composer and lyricist are inspired to write the lyrics and tunes that they do. When Cleo sang, 'He Was Beautiful', she took my breath away. So when I read in her autobiography how she found her inspiration to write the lyrics to this song, I was thrilled to get a glimpse of the cognitive process found in song writing