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Issue 1084

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Legendary Jazz And Funk Star George Duke Has Died

George Duke Pic
George Duke Pic George Duke Pic George Duke Pic George Duke Pic

Grammy-winning keyboardist/composer/arranger/producer George Duke has died in Los Angeles at age 67. He was battling and being treated for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). It is understood he passed away in an L.A. hospital on Monday 5th August. It is a year since his beloved wife died of cancer.

With almost a half a century career, Duke was one of the worldâs most prolific jazz legends. From leading a jazz trio with a young Al Jarreau during his formative years to working with Jean-Luc Ponty, which afforded Dukeâs first recording contract with MPS Records and his first exposure to Europe, to his incredible work with Cannonball Adderley, drummer Billy Cobham, and Frank Zappa, to his cherished stream of jazz-funk records in the â70s, Duke found his mark not only in his eclecticism, but also his signature approach to the synthesizer, which often prized less pyrotechnics in favor of blues elements.

âWe are all devastated by the sad news of Georgeâs passing,â says Mark Wexler, General Manager of the Concord-Telarc Label Group. âHe was a great man, a legendary, one-of-a-kind artist; and our hearts go out to his family. George will be missed by all.â

âThe outpouring of love and support that we have received from my fatherâs friends, fans and the entire music community has been overwhelming,â says Rashid Duke, Georgeâs son. âThank you all for your concern, prayers and support.â
Dukeâs final recording, DreamWeaver, was released July 16, 2013 on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group. The making of DreamWeaver occurred after his wife, Corine, passed away. The album debuted at #1 on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Chart.

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BIO:

The scope of keyboardist-composer-producer George Dukeâs imprint on jazz and pop music over the past forty years is almost impossible to calculate. He has collaborated with some of the most prominent figures in the industry. A producer since the 1980s, he has crafted scores of fine recordings â many of them GRAMMY winners â for artists representing almost every corner of the contemporary American music landscape.

Duke was born in San Rafael, California, in January 1946. When he was four, his mother took him to a performance by that other Duke of jazz, Duke Ellington. He admits that he doesnât remember much of the performance, but his mother told him years later that he spent the next several days demanding a piano.

Duke began his formal training on the instrument at age seven, his earliest influence being the culturally and historically rich black music of his local Baptist church. By his teen years, his universe of musical influences had expanded to include the more secular sounds of young jazz mavericks like Miles Davis, Les McCann and Cal Tjader â all of whom inspired him to play in numerous high school jazz groups. After high school, he attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and received a bachelorâs degree in 1967.

But perhaps the most important lessons came after college, when Duke joined Al Jarreau in forming the house band at the Half Note, the popular San Francisco club, in the late â60s. He also played with Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon in other San Francisco clubs around the same time.

For the next several years, Duke experimented with jazz and fusion by collaborating and performing with artists as diverse as Jean Luc-Ponty, Frank Zappa, Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Cobham and Stanley Clarke. He launched his solo recording career at age 20, and shortly thereafter began cutting LPs for the MPS label in the â70s. As the decade progressed, he veered more toward fusion, R&B and funk with albums like From Me To You (1976) and Reach For It (1978).

During this period he recorded what is possibly his best known album, Brazilian Love Affair. Released in 1980, the album included vocals by Flora Purim and Milton Nascimento, and percussion by Airto Moreira. Love Affair stood in marked contrast to the other jazz/funk styled albums he was cutting at the time.

Dukeâs reputation as a skilled producer was also gathering steam. By the end of the â80s, he had made his mark as a versatile producer by helping to craft recordings by a broad cross section of jazz, R&B and pop artists: Raoul de Souza, Dee Dee Bridgewater, A Taste of Honey, Jeffrey Osborne, Deniece Williams, Melissa Manchester, Al Jarreau, Barry Manilow, Smokey Robinson, The Pointer Sisters, Take 6, Gladys Knight, Anita Baker and many others. Several of these projects scored GRAMMY Awards.

During this time, Duke was just as busy outside the studio as inside. He worked as musical director for numerous large-scale events, including the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in London in 1988. The following year, along with Marcus Miller, he served as musical director of NBCâs acclaimed late-night music performance program, Sunday Night.

The â90s were no less hectic. He toured Europe and Japan with Dianne Reeves and Najee in 1991, and joined the Warner Brothers label the following year with the release of Snapshot, an album that stayed at the top of the jazz charts for five weeks and generated the top 10 R&B single, âNo Rhyme, No Reason.â

Other noteworthy albums in the â90s included the orchestral tour de force Muir Woods Suite (1993) and the eclectic Illusions (1995), in addition to the numerous records Duke produced for a variety of other artists: Najee, George Howard, the Winans, and Natalie Cole (Duke produced 1/3 of the material on Coleâs GRAMMY-winning 1996 release, Stardust).

In 2000, Duke severed his ties with Warner Brothers and launched his own record label, BPM (Big Piano Music). âI spent thirty years at other labels as a recording artist,â he says. âI felt it was time for me to step up to the next level of challenge and form a company that would give me and other artists the opportunity to create quality music and push back the musical restraints that dominate most record labels these days.â

But even with the new responsibilities and challenges associated with running a record label, Duke has continued to juggle the multiple career tracks of recording solo albums, international touring and producing records for other artists. In addition to his own Face the Music (2002), he also produced recent records for Wayman Tisdale, Dianne Reeves, Kelly Price, Regina Belle and Marilyn Scott.

For the better part of 25 years, Duke has also composed and recorded numerous scores for film and television. In addition to nine years as the musical director for the Soul Train Music Awards, he also wrote music â either individual songs or entire soundtracks â for a number of films, including The Five Heartbeats, Karate Kid III, Leap of Faith, Never Die Alone and Meteor Man.

With more than thirty solo recordings in his canon and a resume that spans more than 40 years, Duke joined forces with the Heads Up label with the 2008 release of Dukey Treats, a return to the old-school funk sensibilities of icons like James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament/Funkadelic.

His 2010 Heads Up recording Déjà Vu is an album that revisited the classic synthesizer sound that characterized some of his most memorable recordings from the golden age of funk, soul and jazz in the mid-1970s. Itâs a glance back, but with a very contemporary sensibility â a piece of work that comes together very much in the present, but also conjures up a persistent feeling of something great that came before.

On July 16, 2013, Duke releases DreamWeaver, which he calls his âmost honest album in several years.â The making of DreamWeaver occurred after his wife, Corine, passed away.

With assistance from an illustrious cast of musicians including bassists Christian McBride and Stanley Clarke; singers Teena Marie, Lalah Hathaway, Rachelle Ferrell, and Jeffrey Osborne; guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr. and Jef Lee Johnson; among others, DreamWeaver finds Duke emphasizing more instrumentals than in the past as well as concentrating more on his mastery on various synthesisers.

Like the bulk of Dukeâs discography, DreamWeaver accentuates eclecticism with 15 tracks that range from swinging jazz and sweat funk to gospel-inflected pop and sensual R&B ballads. As the title implies, Duke likens mixing all of the idioms to weaving a sonic fabric. He also compares that stylistic dynamism to life. âEverything is in transition â from hot to cold, from life to death,â he philosophizes, âI wanted to incorporate that kind of thing and include a lot of things that are a part of my life.â
Words SIMON REDLEY

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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