George Duke sings on stage in 2010.
January 12, 1946|
San Rafael, California, U.S.
August 5, 2013 (aged 67)|
Los Angeles, California
|Genres||Jazz, pop, funk|
|Musician, composer, bandleader, record producer|
|Labels||MPS, CBS, Epic, Elektra, Warner Bros.|
|Jean-Luc Ponty, The Mothers of Invention, Cannonball Adderley, Stanley Clarke|
George Duke (January 12, 1946 – August 5, 2013) was an American keyboard pioneer, composer, and record producer. He worked with numerous artists as arranger, music director, writer and co-writer, record producer and as a professor of music. He first made a name for himself with the album The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio. He was known primarily for thirty-odd solo albums, of which A Brazilian Love Affair from 1980 was his most popular, as well as for his collaborations with other musicians, particularly Frank Zappa.
George Duke was born in San Rafael, California and raised in Marin City. It was at the young age of 4 that Duke first became interested in the piano. His mother took him to see Duke Ellington in concert and subsequently told him about this experience. "I don't remember it too well," says George, "but my mother told me I went crazy. I ran around saying 'Get me a piano, get me a piano!'" He began his formal piano studies at the age of 7, at his local Baptist church. It was those early years that influenced his musical approach and feel, as well as his understanding of how music elicits emotion.
Playing with friends from garages to local clubs, Duke eased his way into session work, which refined his abilities and expanded his approach to music. He earned a master's degree in composition from San Francisco State University in 1975. Although he started playing classical music, he credited his cousin Charles Burrell for convincing him to switch to jazz.
Duke explained that he "wanted to be free" and Burrell "more or less made the decision for me" by convincing him to "improvise and do what you want to do". He also taught a course on jazz and American culture at Merritt College in Oakland.
Duke recorded his first album in 1966 His second was with French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, with whom he performed in San Francisco. After Frank Zappa and Cannonball Adderley heard him play, they invited him to join their bands. He spent two years with Zappa as a member of The Mothers of Invention, two years with Adderley, then returned to Zappa. Zappa played guitar solos on his album Feel (1974). He recorded I Love the Blues She Heard Me Cry with Zappa's bandmates Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler, and Bruce Fowler and jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour.
In 1975 Duke fused jazz with pop, funk, and soul music on his album From Me to You. Three years later his album Reach for It entered the pop charts, and his audiences increased. During the 1980s his career moved to a second phase as he spent much of his time as a record producer. He produced pop and R&B hits for A Taste of Honey, Jeffrey Osborne, and Deniece Williams. His clients included Anita Baker, Rachelle Ferrell, Everette Harp, Gladys Knight, Melissa Manchester, Barry Manilow, The Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson, and Take 6.
Duke worked as musical director at numerous large-scale musical events, including the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium, London in 1988. In 1989, he temporarily replaced Marcus Miller as musical director of NBC's late-night music performance program Sunday Night during its first season. Duke was also a judge for the second annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.
On August 5, 2014, one year after his death, Al Jarreau, Duke's long-time friend, released an album titled, My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke. The album's songs were written by Duke. Jarreau enlisted Gerald Albright, Stanley Clarke, Dr. John, Lalah Hathaway, Boney James, Marcus Miller, Jeffrey Osborne, Kelly Price, Duke's niece Dianne Reeves, Patrice Rushen help create this tribute to Duke's music. The album was released by Concord Records and received the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album.