Scatting Laine insane in the brain

08/09/2011 11:27

She has delighted audiences around the world for over five decades and is credited with introducing generations of music fans to modern jazz singing. But in a touching interview with the fig, Cleo Laine's family reveal for the first time that the bubble-permed jazz stalwart's trademark "scatting" was in fact the first tell-tale symptom of what turned into a 40-year battle with Alzheimer's.


Cleo Laine - The FigThroughout her career, Cleo Laine made a number of high profile collaborations with artists also who suffered from degenerative brain disorders.

Cleo, a light entertainment mainstay on UK television throughout the 70s and 80s, formed a long-lasting duo with her musical director, saxophonist, and later husband John Dankworth. Her unique vocal technique - which combined a four octave range with thrilling staccato vocal improvisations - provided a beguiling contrast against her husband's mellifluous saxophone.

The couple, who married in 1958, performed together throughout the 60s and 70s, but by the early 1980s, Laine's increasingly eccentric performances were starting to cause concern.

"The first time she started doing the 'ski-bop-de-bop-skiddly-doo' thing  on The Two Ronnies, we thought she'd forgotten the words and was just improvising" confessed daughter Jacqui Dankworth, "so you can imagine how devastated we all were when it happened the following week on The James Galway Television Special.

"John was of course mortified by the onset of Cleo's scatting, and it was his idea to attribute her increasingly bizarre performances to an avant-garde style of innovative jazz vocalisation, rather than come clean and admit that Cleo had mental health problems."

Although scat singing has been around since the 1920s,  the etymology of the term remains uncertain. Many musicologists believe it is a word of German origin, thought to represent the sound made by an overweight businessman from Dusseldorf struggling to empty his bowels onto a glass coffee table.