Singer Dame Cleo Laine and her husband, John Dankworth, open a limited engagement Sept. 12 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York City. Laine and Dankworth continue there to Sept. 23.
Often compared to such singers as Betty Carter and Rosemary Clooney, Cleo Laine began her career in 1952 with a big band led by Dankworth. Together they recorded for such labels as Esquire, MGM and Pye. Married in 1958, the Dankworths made a mid-'60s transition to pursue Laine's solo career which led to such highlights as Laine's Carnegie Hall recordings. These earned wide acclaim, including a 1983 Grammy Award (the first to a Brit) for her Carnegie Hall recording, "The 10th Anniversary Concert."
On stage, Laine has had a variety of roles in such plays as Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, the title role in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, Julie in Show Boat in London, and a starring role in the Broadway musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which earned her a Theater World Award and Tony and Drama Desk nominations.
"Although I like to try 'themes,'" Laine told Playbill On-Line, "I always lose them and I like to change, depending on who the audience is that night. Sometimes I do show tunes, but sometimes the audience likes great standards. Since we've got them all up our sleeve, we stick them in willy nilly."
Laine said that the flexibility she enjoys in her show is made possible by the talent and nature of the jazz musicians she works with. "They can immediately sense which way you are going," Laine said. "They have to be so knowledgeable about their instruments, in a way that even classical musicians aren't. On top of that, their ears have to be honed to a degree that is truly unusual. They have to hear things that aren't there and they're amazing creatures, jazz musicians. I married one, after all." Laine's husband, John Dankworth studied music formally in London, at his own insistence, but would steal away to play saxophone, an instrument that was not offered in academy programs at the time. Years later, Dankworth was eventually invited back to teach saxophone and became the first person to tutor a jazz band at the Royal Academy of Music in the early '70s. In addition to his work with Laine, Dankworth has composed, arranged or recorded music with such artists as Mel Torme, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dizzy Gillespie and Al Hirt.
Laine will be heard on two albums on the Gold Label in early 2001: "Live in Manhattan" ( from a concert at Carnegie Hall) and "The Quintessential Cleo" (a collection).
For more information and reservations call Feinstein's at (212) 339 4095.
-- By Murdoch McBride