Cleo with husband, John Dankworth

Musical inspirations?

My musical inspirations are the musicians and singers of my youth who sang and performed jazz.

Cleo Laine Bio

-a recording star with GRAMMY awards and nominations, Top Ten records and gold and platinum albums  a Broadway star with accolades from the Tony Awards, the Los Angeles Critics Circle and theatre critics all over the world

 -a singing star who has performed repeatedly in the world's most famous concert halls - Carnegie, the Hollywood Bowl, Sydney Opera House and countless others

 -a legend in the world of music

Born in a London suburb, Cleo showed early singing talent, which was nurtured by her Jamaican father and English mother who sent her to singing and dancing lessons. It was not, however, until she reached her mid-twenties that she applied herself seriously to singing. She auditioned successfully for a band led by musician John Dankworth, under whose banner she performed until 1958, in which year the two were married.

Then began an illustrious career as a singer and actress. In 1958 she played the lead in a new play at London's famous Royal Court Theatre, home of the new wave of playwrights of the 'fifties - Pinter, Osborne and the like. This led to other stage performances such as the musical "Valmouth" in 1959, the play "A Time to Laugh" (with Robert Morley and Ruth Gordon) in 1962, and eventually to her show stopping Julie in the Wendy Toye production of "Showboat" at the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1971.

During this period she had two spectacular recording successes. "You'll Answer to Me" reached the British Top Ten at the precise time that Cleo was 'prima donna' in the 1961 Edinburgh Festival production of the Kurt Weill opera/ballet "The Seven Deadly Sins". In 1964 her "Shakespeare and All that Jazz" album received widespread critical acclaim, and to this day remains an important milestone in her identification with the more unusual aspects of a singer's repertoire.

1972 marked the start of Cleo's international activities, with a triumphant first tour of Australia. Shortly afterwards, her career in the United States was launched with a concert at New York's Lincoln Center, followed in 1973 by the first of many Carnegie Hall appearances. Coast-to-coast tours of the U.S. and Canada soon followed, and with them a succession of record albums and television appearances. This led, after several nominations, to Cleo's first Grammy award, in recognition of the live recording of her 1983 Carnegie concert.

Other important recordings during that time were duet albums with Ray Charles ("Porgy and Bess") and Mel Tormé, as well as Arnold Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" which won Cleo a classical Grammy nomination.

Cleo's relationship with the musical theatre, started in Britain, continued in the United States with starring performances in "A Little Night Music" and "The Merry Widow" (Michigan Opera). In 1985 she originated the role of Princess Puffer in the Broadway hit musical "The Mystery of Edwin Drood", for which she received a Tony nomination, and in 1989 she received the Los Angeles critics' acclaim for her portrayal of the Witch in Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods". Los Angeles was also the scene of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Cleo by the US recording industry (1991).

In 1979 Cleo received an OBE from Her Majesty the Queen for services to music, and in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in June 1997 she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire. She has also been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Boston's Berklee College of Music in the United States and, in the United Kingdom from Cambridge University, the University of York, the Open University and the University of Luton. In 1998 the Worshipful Company of Musicians awarded her their Silver Medal for a Lifetime Contribution to British Jazz, and the British Jazz Awards have recognised her a number of times, including with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.

She lives with her husband, John Dankworth in Wavendon, Buckinghamshire, where in 1969 they founded their first charity, The Wavendon Allmusic Plan, with the aim of helping people broaden their views about music through performance and musical education. In the converted stable block in the grounds of their home they established an arts centre that has since become internationally renowned. The Stables, Wavendon has been host to many world famous artistes, from Vladimir Ashkenazy to George Shearing, and some of today's top professional musicians and singers have benefited from its education projects in the early stages of their careers. With the aid of an Arts Council lottery grant the new Stables theatre, built adjacent to the original stable block, opened its doors in October 2000 and continues to provide performers, students and audience alike with a centre of musical excellence second to none. The organisation, administered by a board of honorary trustees that includes Dame Cleo and John Dankworth, currently produces an annual programme featuring nearly 200 concerts and 300 education sessions. Having realised their original vision, Dame Cleo and her husband decided in 1999 to set up a further charity. The Wavendon Foundation was formed with the objective of raising funds to benefit both individual young artistes in need of financial aid, and organisations seeking support for music education projects. A major activity of the trust is the annual Wavendon Garden Season, a programme of summer events staged under a purpose-built canopy in the Dankworths' garden.

Cleo continues to tour the world with her artistry, and this trend shows no sign of abating. Neither does the career of this unusual and superlative artist.

Cleo Laine's autobiography CLEO was published in September 1994 by Simon & Schuster. Her second book, You Can Sing If You Want To, was published by Victor Gollancz in October 1997.

The term "jazz singer" embraces a very diverse number of styles from a hundred divergent backgrounds, and arguments continue unabated over the years as to what jazz singing really is.

Cleo Laine's jazz credentials include:

-her appearances at the world-famous Newport festival and many other such events all over the world

-her frequent seasons at New York's Blue Note Club

-her numerous recordings of the jazz repertoire - Ellington, Monk, Strayhorn, Mulligan and many more

-her duet albums with Ray Charles and Mel Tormé

-her own recordings with famous jazzmen as guests - George Shearing, Mark Whitfield, Joe Williams, Toots Thielemans, Kenny Wheeler, Clark Terry and others


West Indian Alec Campbell came to Europe, fought in World War One and afterwards settled in England where he met and married Minnie Hitchin. The resultant offspring included one Clementine Dinah - later known as Cleo. Showing all the signs of musical talent early in life, she was sent to singing and dancing lessons. However, what progress she might have made later on was interrupted by World War Two, and an early marriage put paid to any dreams of a singing career.

However, she began doing occasional work (usually unpaid) with local bands, until she auditioned for a place in the Johnny Dankworth Seven, at that time one of Britain's best jazz groups.


She got the job, and rose quickly to prominence in Britain. Her acclaimed recording of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" was one of the first ever made of the song, and such performances quickly brought her to the top of British jazz popularity polls. (Cleo also at this time enjoyed a celebrated career in the popular music world, as well as appearing frequently as an actress, but her love of jazz and the inherent jazz dialect of her style have never stayed far from the surface for long.)

Cleo married John Dankworth in 1958, and accompanied her husband to the United States when he toured there the following year. Even thought she was not part of the musical package (merely vacationing) she did in fact sing a set at the Dankworth band's appearance at Birdland. In the audience was Ella Fitzgerald, which began a lasting friendship between the two singers, typified when over twenty years later Ella sent Cleo a bouquet of roses on the occasion of Cleo's first jazz "Grammy" victory. "Congratulations, gal" said the card "- it's about time!"

But after that first night in Birdland, Cleo's singing career in the States went on hold while she developed her craft in Britain and Europe, continuing to record prolifically. Meanwhile her reputation - and her recordings - crossed the Atlantic in ever-increasing quantity. Her 1964 album "Shakespeare and All That Jazz" received a five-star review in Down Beat magazine and her "Live at the London Palladium" album with Dankworth was amongst many others acclaimed by critics. Around this time, the London Times unequivocally pronounced her "the best singer in the world", a title Cleo herself has always modestly disclaimed.

In 1972 Cleo's first New York concert drew enthusiastic reviews. "The British ... have been hiding one of their national treasures" exclaimed John Wilson in The New York Times. The first of many appearances at Carnegie Hall followed in 1973. Another in the following year was recorded and the resulting album "Live at Carnegie Hall" became the first of several "Grammy" nominations for Cleo.

Since those early trans-Atlantic days Cleo Laine has appeared repeatedly in almost every major city in the United States. She has also made frequent world-wide tours taking in Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Iceland, Israel and many European countries.

Cleo's records continue to be distributed worldwide. Her 1990 "Woman to Woman" album merited "five stars out of a possible four" according to the US magazine Jazz Times. The album "Jazz" reached number five in the US jazz radio play charts, and "Nothing without You", a duet compilation with Mel Tormé, reached the Billboard Top Ten in 1992, remaining in the charts for several months.

Cleo Laine's continued activity in the world of jazz performance, and the quality and depth which those performances continue to show, make her a strong contender indeed for the world title of "a first lady of jazz".


Music has helped me through all sorts of emotions throughout my life -
Sadness, grief, happiness, love. The traditional songs I sing often deal
with lost love but sometimes can be uplifting also. Music has enriched my life a thousandfold and I can't imagine life without music.

Niamh Parsons has come to be known as one of the most distinctive voices in Irish music. Her voice has drawn comparisons to such venerated singers as Dolores Keane, June Tabor and Sandy Denny. The great Scottish balladeer Archie Fisher said of Niamh, "a songstress like her comes along once or twice in a generation."

Never has this been more clear than on her new album, Heart's Desire (Green Linnet, 2002) featuring Graham Dunne. True to the direction of the two solo albums that preceded it, In My Prime and Blackbirds and Thrushes, Niamh's latest album furthers the tradition of Irish song with unadorned settings and heartfelt delivery. She has gathered together a collection of songs drawn from both traditional sources and modern writers including Mark Knopfler and Andy Irvine. The talented musicians who play on the album include in addition to her main accompanist, guitarist Graham Dunne, accordionist Josephine Marsh and Dennis Cahill, who produced the CD, and calls it "her best work yet."

Heart's Desire is dedicated to the memory of her father, Jack Parsons. "Daddy had a beautiful voice," says Niamh, "and a great ear for a good song." Born and raised in Dublin, Niamh learned traditional Irish songs and harmonizing from her father, who instilled a deep love for traditional singing in his daughters. Her mother is a set dancer from Co. Clare and a lover of traditional music.

Niamh developed this love into a penchant for collecting songs. She is always on the lookout for songs that speak to her -- listening to new albums, scouring the Traditional Music Archives in Dublin, sharing notes with a network of friends and other singers. Once she discovers a song she likes, Niamh views herself as the vehicle for the music. "For me the song is more important than listening to my voice," she says. "I consider myself more a songstress than a singer -- a carrier of tradition."

Throughout her career, Niamh has performed with a wide variety of artists, and has appeared at nearly every prestigious folk festival on either side of the Atlantic. As a member of the traditional Irish band Arcady (led by De Dannan's Johnny "Ringo" McDonagh), she sang on their Shanachie recording Many Happy Returns. She appeared before President Clinton and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in Washington, joined Grammy Award winner Paul Winter for an album and a summer concert in New York, and performed on "A Prairie Home Companion" when the show broadcast live from Dublin.

Niamh's recording career began with The Loose Connections, a band of top-notch Belfast musicians she formed with songwriter and bass-player Dee Moore. The band recorded two albums of contemporary and traditional material together. Their debut recording, Loosely Connected (Greentrax, 1992; Green Linnet, 1995) met with the highest of praise. A beautiful mix of traditional Irish and contemporary songs, it featured the memorable "Tinkerman's Daughter" and featured Brian Kennedy, piper John McSherry (Lúnasa, Coolfin), and accordionist Alan Kelly.

The Loose Connections' second album, Loosen Up (Green Linnet, 1997) was another buoyant mix of originals and well-chosen contemporary ballads, like the gorgeous "Clohinne Winds" and Tom Waits' "The Briar and the Rose," a powerful a cappella duet with Fran McPhail of the Voice Squad. Once again the album featured first-class musicians, including guitarist Gavin Ralston (Mike Scott, Sharon Shannon) and Kilkenny accordion player Mick McAuley (now with Solas).

In 1999, Niamh took a bold step and returned to her roots with her first solo album, Blackbirds and Thrushes (Green Linnet) a collection of traditional Irish ballads gathered from over 15 years of Niamh's singing repertoire. In her words, "these songs are living in me." The album won instant acclaim as a welcome return to traditionalism. The Boston Globe declared that it "expressed the sorrow and longing of the Celtic soul more deeply than any within recent memory", and Irish Music Magazine called it "simply magnificent traditional singing."

Keeping in form, Niamh's next CD In My Prime (Green Linnet 2000) was another collection of mostly traditional material, and again received widespread praise. Folk Roots named it one of the top albums of the year and The Irish Voice called the album "a must-have disc for lovers of Irish song." It also saw the emergence of Niamh's new accompanist, talented young guitarist Graham Dunne. The album was nominated for Album of the Year by BBC Radio 2 (UK) and the Association for Independent Music (US).

With Heart's Desire the newest addition, it is a body of work that has proven Niamh Parsons one of the premier vocalists of her time and a keeper of the flame in Irish traditional song.


Has music helped you thru a difficult time in your life?

Yes, music has helped me through a difficult time in my life.

Music inspirations?

I am inspired by Marcus Miller, Stevie Wonder, Earl Klugh, Bob James, and many other artist.


As a child growing up in Detroit in the ‘60’s, being influenced by the Motown Sound was only natural. This gifted musician began playing bass at the age of 12, learning the bass lines from listening to recordings of the many Motown Artist. Piano lessons followed shortly after. Upon graduating from high school Al began playing in various clubs around Detroit and Canada with the group Free Spirit which featured Anita Baker as the lead vocalist.

Playing professionally since the early eighty’s, Al has performed with some of the top names in the music industry. In between touring the world with Earl Klugh for the past 10 years, Al continues to stay busy in the recording studios. You can hear his bass playing on recordings by Aretha Franklin, Earl Klugh, Oleta Adams, Anita Baker, Nancy Wilson, Bob James, Randy Crawford, Kem and Gladys Knight to name a few. Also you can hear “The Burner” on many television and radio commercials. In addition, Al has toured with Bob James, Oleta Adams, David Benoit and Everette Harp.

Still residing in the Detroit area, Al has written and produced songs for Smooth Jazz recording artists Tim Bowman and Edgar Wallace, Jr.

Now after gracefully laying down the bottom end on hundreds of recordings, Al has released his debut CD entitled, “It’s Good To Have Friends”. The title is fitting because many of Al’s friends are on this very fine recording.


* Your musical inspirations?

Like just about everyone who's tried to write a song in the last forty
years, The Beatles have been a gigantic influence on my musically, but
my primary musical inspiration has been jazz and specifically Miles
Davis.  Miles represents the epitome of what an artist should be.  He,
like The Beatles, was constantly progressing and searching for new ways to stretch the boundaries of his music.

 * Favorite CD's, songs, or musicians?

Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Miles Davis, The Complete 1964 Concert
Jason Falkner Presents Author Unknown
The Shins Chutes Too Narrow, Oh Inverted World
Wayne Shorter, Speak No Evil

 * Has music helped you thru a difficult time in your life?

Music has been the cause and solution to most significant events and
problems in my life.  I spent two years living in New York trying to
deal with the high cost of living and the low paycheck of being a
freelance jazz musician.  That experience lead me to switch gears and
become a singer and a songwriter instead of just playing saxophone. 
I've been playing music in some shape or form since I was 5 years old. 

At this point being a musician seems so ingrained into who I am as a
person that I don't really consider music to be a tool that helps me
cope with situations anymore than my lungs help me breathe.  Of course, I'd have a rough time breathing without my lungs, and I couldn't live without music as a part of my life, but it's more that they're both almost imaginary divisions of who I am.

Zack Hexum BIO

Zack Hexum - vocals, saxophone, keyboards, guitar
Joel Martin - guitars
Bill Shupp - bass guitar
Blair Sinta – drums

“Necessity was the inspiration for this album. My goal was to find the purest essence of what I do, and put it into musical terms,” explains L.A.-based singer-songwriter ZACK HEXUM. “Inspirational” is the term to describe The Story So Far, Zack Hexum’s extraordinary debut solo album.

The autobiographical album, which deftly mixes rock, pop and jazz into an irresistible blend, was recorded during a 2-week burst of artistic inspiration at Media Vortex Studio in Burbank, California, during the fall of 2003.

The Story So Far was produced by the award-winning knob-twirler Don Gehman, whose platinum touch has graced earlier works by R.E.M., Bruce Hornsby, Hootie & the Blowfish, John Mellencamp, and Nanci Griffith. “Don has this sort of Zen thing happening, which I was very attracted to. Making the album was an organic process, and Don had a very hands-off approach. I imagine a lot of producers want to put their own mark on everything they touch, but Don really allowed the band to enjoy a relaxed and natural flow.”

Zack is a songwriter who tends not to shy away from compositions that reveal his most personal thoughts and experiences. “The songs are dramatizations of true stories. I just put it right out there as it happens, though there are times when I try to make the details a little ambiguous. But, overall, I try not to worry about how it might make me look.”

Zack’s musical journey began when he was very young; he was taking violin lessons by age seven and was a determined piano student through most of his adolescence. He attended the University of North Texas where he studied jazz and was chosen to be part of One ‘O Clock Lab, the renowned big band on campus.

Upon graduation, Zack sojourned to the Big Apple, where he studied saxophone with some of the best jazz musicians in the city. “I got to study with David Liebman, who played with Miles Davis,” recalls Zack. “He is one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had. The lessons I learned then about playing saxophone absolutely apply to how I sing now.”

Zack’s musical and lyrical inspirations stem from such artists as The Police, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake, Beck and Elliott Smith. But, the deepest well Zack draws from is the one inspired by The Beatles. “The Beatles music is timeless and can be appreciated by everyone. One of the goals for me is to have my music be meaningful today as well as many years to come.”

While at UNT, Zack met his current band mates (two of whom also attended the school). Even though it is just his name on this project, he is quick to describe the process of making the record as a very band-oriented one; “I’d demo new songs on a home recording machine - usually with just acoustic guitar and vocals - then email MP3’s to the guys in the band. They would listen, get the vibe, and pretty much write their own parts.”

With the creation of his first major recording now behind him, ZACK HEXUM can look forward to the next logical step in his musical evolution - taking his music to the people. “As soon as humanly possible I want to get out on the road, and stay out as long as possible.” Since 2004, Zack has done just that, opening for his brother's band, 311, and childhood heroes Tears for Fears as well as supporting himself on the road with just a guitar and a saxophone or touring with a full band. Since September of 2004 Hexum has over 100 live performances to his credit.


Music inspirado:
The Beatles,Jimi Hendrix, The Cream, Ella Fitzgerald and the soundtrack to Westside Story

Favorite songs,CDs,Musicians:

John Lennon,Strawberry Fields, Jeff Beck, Blow by Blow (best instrumental album ever), Jimi Hendrix, All Along the
Watchtower(the best recording of vibe,feel, and performance ever),Claude Debussy, Claire De Lune, Wilson Pickett, He
could sing the yellow pages and I’d listen, Bobby Blue Bland, Ella
Fitzgerald, Terence Trent D’arby

Has music helped you thru a difficult time in your life?

Music has lead me out of troubled times and walked me back again.

Ricky Phillips Bio

Ricky has often stated that he played every zip code starting with EiEiO before ever getting a major gig. Although known as the bass player for Bad English and The Babys, some of the other artists he has been invited to perform on stage and/or in the studio with include: Jimmy Page, Joe Cocker, Roger Daltrey, Mick Jagger, Sammy Haggar, Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Julian Lennon, Ted Nugent, Eddie Money, Steve Stevens, David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, Joe Lynn Turner, Steve Lukather, Vinnie Caliuta, Alan White, Jeff Porcarro and Terri Bozzio. He has written, performed, sung, produced, and engineered music for various artists as well as for film and television. His styles of writing range from the rock genre he's known for, to children's music for Nickelodeon, jazz themes for CNN, Be Bop, Flamenco, blues and contemporary pop.

Ricky Phillips was born in Iowa but raised in Northern California. He comes from a musical family and both of his parents were actively involved in their local theater."My family sang in the car...everywhere we went...My dad would start...then my mom...and my brother, and I would come up with harmony parts and go for it", recalls Phillips. He started piano at the age of 6 and remembers he and his brother hanging around the theater and acting at an early age. "Mike was a great actor and passed me up on the piano in no time. I'd rather be out playing Little League or jamming to my dad's records than learning lines or reading music. I think I had 7 piano teachers over the years and I hated them all." A few years later, he began sneaking out his dad's Martin guitar. He taught himself Beatles, Stones and whatever else he could lift off the radio. By the age of twelve, he began forming his first band with childhood friend Steve Gunner. They called themselves The Warlox. For a few years, Phillips was consumed by the guitar until one week his bass player decided to leave his bass at Rick's house where they were rehearsing. "I was beginning to notice (Paul) McCartney's melodic lines were my favorite parts of the songs and was blown away by the aggressive style of John I played this guys week end. My hands were shot and the blisters were pretty bad, but I was hooked."

Phillips continued pursuing his love of the guitar through school but eventually quit in his senior year at San Francisco State to play full time. He spent the next few years playing 4 and 5 sets a night in rock clubs around the US and Canada. "That was my real education...on a lot of levels," quips Phillips. "I was looking at graduating and all I really wanted to do was play music. I had to at least give it a shot."

At a certain point, he knew he had to make his move to either New York or Los Angeles. He ended up in Los Angeles with a suitcase, a bass, a guitar and 20 borrowed dollars in his pocket. He auditioned for a high profile LA band and got the gig. That gig got him the exposure he needed. Marc Salter, who was working for the British band The Babys, saw Ricky play. John Waite was replacing himself as The Babys' bass player so he could concentrate purely on fronting the band. Salter tracked Ricky down and brought Waite to meet him in a Hollywood music store where Ricky had begun working for $100 a week. Phillips recalls, "I grabbed a bass off the wall...price tag swinging and walked across the street where they'd been holding auditions for three weeks. We played two new songs 'HEAD FIRST' and 'RUN TO MEXICO' and then Waite, Cain, and myself sang the chorus to 'ISN'T IT TIME' and something else... I don't remember what... They left the room for five

minutes and came back with their manager Chip Rachlin and asked me to join the band."

After 3 years, and three great albums, The Babys all went their separate ways and Rick began writing, doing sessions and extensive touring as a sideman. He landed some of his music in the film, The Terminator, which opened the door to more film and television work. Eventually, at a vineyard in Saratoga California, he and Jonathan Cain would decide to put another band together, which would become Bad English. In essence it was the merging of The Babys and Journey, with a platinum selling debut album garnishing #1 and #3 CHR hits, a #1 Rock Chart hit, and 3 other top 40 hits. Rick's next venture was with Jimmy Page and David Coverdale. Another platinum release called was Coverdale/Page. During the recording of this record, Ricky was building a studio in North Hollywood for his writing and production projects. The first CD he produced and engineered in this studio was the critically acclaimed Frederiksen/Phillips CD. A duo with ex-Toto singer Fergie Frederiksen which featured guests from YES, Chicago, Journey, Mr. Mister, Tower of Power, Mr. Big, CCR, and an array of fellow session players. Ricky also produced Fergie's solo release, Equilibrium and the band Elements of Friction.

Rick is currently at work writing, producing and developing new projects.

Next Page

©Voices and Visions