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Jacqui Dankworth is an actress, singer, songwriter and daughter of Dame Cleo Lane and John Dankworth. She has toured with the Brodsky Quartet and recorded with them on their latest CD, alongside such guests as Sting, Elvis Costello, Bjork, Ian Shaw and Sir Paul McCartney. She featured on Courtney Pine's album Devotion and sang alongside him at the Royal Festival Hall, as part of the London Jazz Festival. Several tunes from her album As The Sun Shines Down On Me made the Jazz FM play list, and she receives repeated play on BBC Radio 2, especially on Michael Parkinson's Sunday Supplement
She released her second solo album Detour Ahead earlier this year and recently played a show at Cottenham Village hall. Music-Zine caught up with Jacqui for a chat about her music and influences.
How did it all start for you?
I trained as an actress initially and gradually got into music and writing, and was part of a band and I went solo only recently, in the last 3 or 4 years, so I've done a whole gambit of things.
Were your family a big influence on your music?
Yes, of course, though not what I write but certainly what I listened to from an early age. They had a whole range of music from very modern jazz to Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Taylor, Carole King, Roland Kirk etc. so I had my own indoor library in the house which was a great influence as a kid. I used to tape a lot of it and take it to boarding school with me. So I guess indirectly they had an influence on the original stuff I write, but mainly I guess I used to listen to a whole range of stuff. I was into chart music as well, which they weren't really into. I had quite a sophisticated ear as a teenager really ' listening to John Coltrane and then also the chart so I was straddling both worlds in a way.
Has any of the stuff you were listening to from the charts an influence?
If you look at my previous album 'As The Sun Shines Down On Me' there's Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder covers or reworkings of those. I also did a James Taylor cover. So not really the pop charts, but certainly the singer-songwriter types. I was madly into Al Jarreau in the eighties as well and he's still around now and he's someone I admire tremendously as well as Kurt Elling. Nowadays I like Keane ' I can appreciate what a great singer he is and how musical the songs are, but I'm not up on all the chart stuff really. There are some contemporary singers around now that I like ' Dee Dee Bridgewater, Shirley Horne, Diana Krall. I'm not sure these people are influences but you do absorb what they do.
You're career to date has been incredibly varied ' what's been the high point for you?
There have been many high points really ' I've enjoyed working with The Brodsky Quartet because that's been a real challenge and then I enjoyed working with Courtney Pine ' doing some gigs with him and recording. I also enjoy working with my own band ' there have been many high points really ' I can't pick one out!
Has work started on the new album yet?
Yes, it has ' I've been working with singer song-writers and trying to write new material, find new material, find new producers and so on. So I'm talking to the record company at the moment to try and get the whole thing off the ground.
Will it be the same line-up as the last record?
It's early days yet so I can't really answer that question. It depends what material I chose to be honest.
Can we expect more of your own compositions? Time Takes It's Time was a particular highlight for me on the last album...
I hope so yes. It's bizarre because I have to walk this balancing act between people saying they'd like to hear more of my own material and others saying that I should record more standards and so I'm completely caught between the two, but I think on this new album I will try to do more of my own stuff.
Aside from the album are there any other projects you're currently working on?
I'm doing a play which will be performed with writers and music so I'm dipping my toe into acting again, and I've been asked to sing at the honoury dinner for the people who wrote Windmill's of Your Mind, which I'm really excited about.
You've appeared on several other recordings such as BBC Big Band Gershwin's Classics and Gerard Prescencer's Optimist and so on ' which one are you most proud of?
I think working with Gerard was a highlight simply because he was such a fantastic musician, so that was a really nice thing to do, and then The Brodsky Quartet was a different kind of highlight. And also the Courtney Pine thing was too. Sorry! I'm being a real diplomat here ' I don't want to single one out, they were all highlights!
What do you think of the new younger generation of Jazzy singers coming through like Jamie Cullum, Amy Winehouse, Katie Melua etc?
I admire Jamie Cullum because he's such a great entertainer and a real communicator. I don't really want to comment on the others as I don't really know enough about them, but everyone's doing their own thing and good luck to them. The whole jazz scene is changing slightly now, it's almost like nu-jazz. I don't think Katie Melua is a jazz artist but she's being marketed as such and that sort of confuses me. Amy Winehouse is a jazz artist in the sense that she improvises and her music has a kind of spontaneity and passion. There's some great people out there but it's a weird climate as for instance Norah Jones is called jazz but I don't think it is and I don't think even she would call herself jazz so it's a different marketing angle on the word jazz. It would be interesting to hear a young jazz artist in the conventional sense breaking through.
Your family have being running music courses for a number of years now. Do you get involved in those?
I did teach on some of them yes, which is funny because I used to go on the courses when I was a little girl. I really enjoy teaching actually although I like doing it in short bursts 'I love that intensity of doing two weeks in the summer of masterclass and teaching and trying to encourage the best out of people. Sometimes you get dramatic results ' someone could arrive who's terribly insecure and you think my god they haven't got a voice at all, and by the end of the week they're flying and you think 'wow! I helped them do that', but it's the whole process of them coming to the course, meeting other musicians and finding their confidence so it's nice to be part of that, because in a way the music business can be all about yourself and fairly selfish in that respect because you're trying to drive your own career so it's quite nice to be able to give back a bit to other artists and performers and put the focus on them. They also feed you in a way and you have to analyse how someone sings and what you can drive out of them and quite a lot of it is instinctive.
With the varied career you've add are there any personal ambitions ' anything you still want to do?
God, loads! The main ones I guess are tour America and Europe and play the lead in a musical. Also to sing with Al Jarreau.
Jacqui Dankworth's Essential Albums
Stevie Wonder - Innervisons
Joni Mitchell - Both Sides Now
Look to the Rainbow?
Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue
Kurt Elling - anything