Tuesday, August 6, 2013

RIP George Duke

I just heard via Facebook that the great pianist, keyboardist, composer and producer George Duke has died. George Duke's musicianship defined versatility; he played jazz piano with Cannonball Adderly, analog synthesizers with Frank Zappa, funk with Bootsy Collins, and Brazilian music with Milton Nasciemento. Duke enjoyed a 50 plus year career. He recently released an album called "Dreamweaver", which was a tribute to his wife, who passed away from cancer a few years ago.

I met Duke in Japan in 2010; a friend brought him to my performance at "Body and Soul" jazz club in Tokyo. We briefly hung out after the show; Duke was extremely down to earth and super nice. I asked him about playing with Frank Zappa; Duke smiled and spoke about how challenging it was to work with the analog synthesizers of the 1970's. "I would have to play all this crazy music AND switch sounds AND sing at the same time. The problem was, you couldn't save patches on synthesizers the way you can these days. These machines were very temperamental. I would try to do all this stuff during the concert, and Frank would turn around and say, "That's not the sound you had last night!" And I would say, "Frank! Give me a break!"

Duke was kind enough to get me a free ticket to his concert the next evening at The Cotton Club. It was quite a show; he had the whole place singing and rocking. I found it interesting that Duke seemed so humble, unquestionably a serious musician, and yet also quite a showman. Duke sang hits from his own book and others, and played amazing solos and grooves effortlessly. It was really quite a privilege to see that show.

It's interesting that many of today's young musicians are rather unfamiliar with George Duke.I'm truly inspired by Duke's openness and variety. If you are curious, here are links to some of his works.

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