More or less “labeled” a Jazz artist, George Duke was a multi-faceted musician and composer. He died on Monday at the age of 67 in his native state of California. According to the New York Times…
“He had suffered heart complications after being treated for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, said his manager, Darryl Porter, who confirmed the death. In Duke’s own words: ‘I was in a rock band, I played with a bunch of Brazilians, I played R&B with Parliament-Funkadelic and all of that,” he said in an interview before his most recent album, “DreamWeaver,” was released last month. ‘I mean, I’ve done jazz with Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley. It’s a goulash. It’s a gumbo.’”
George Duke is known primarily for his talents as a keyboardist. Although he played piano and organ, the one he’s known as a master of, is synthesizer. …from NY Times: “By the early 1970s he had performed and recorded with Adderley, the jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. (His six-year stint with Zappa included an appearance, with the rest of the band, in the feature film “200 Motels.”) Zappa “told me one day that I should play synthesizers,” Mr. Duke wrote on his Web site. “It was as simple as that!” Urged by Zappa, he said, he experimented with a few types of synthesizers before settling on the ARP Odyssey, “purely to be different from Jan Hammer, who was playing the Minimoog.” Mr. Hammer was a member of the guitarist John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, one of the first jazz-rock fusion bands to achieve widespread success. As a leader, Mr. Duke focused in the middle and late 1970s on groove-oriented FUNK.”
Other artists Duke has played and/ or worked with throughout his career include: Michael Jackson, Al Jarreau, Dizzy Gillespie, Milton Nascimento, Flora Purim, Stanley Clarke (they worked together a lot, and formed the Clarke/Duke Project), Deniece Williams, Jeffrey Osborne, Angela Bofill, the duo A Taste of Honey, Bootsy Collins (his last CD “Tha Funk Capital of the World”) and his cousin Dianne Reeves.
I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing Sir Duke once when he was promoting his album “Is Love Enough.” That was in 1997, born in 1946, he graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1967. I wanted to insert that brief span of his life because when I tell you this dude was COOL! This is one of THE COOLEST CATS, I have ever met. By this time, having a bckground in jazz and a mom who took him to see Duke Ellington at the age of four, Duke was a “Master of Cool” by then. For me, our interview could only begin with the title of the album. It went more-or-less this way… “So your new CD is called ‘Is Love Enough’, let’s start with that, Is Love Enough? He replied in rhetorical fashion, “Is it?”, “Let’s see…” then proceeded to talk about the current ills of society at that time and how there’s always bills to pay amidst two people sharing varying personality traits AND living together – married or not, then flipped it and asked me, “Is Love Enough”? and I answered, “I don’t think so,” but added, “although I do believe love is unconditional, people just may vary how much they love different people.” He appreciated my perspective, and told me that’s why he did an album called “Is Love Enough,” because it ain’t, and that he wanted people to think about and be more conscious of that and love itself – yet at the same time love all they can. That’s FUNKY Ain’t It? The CD featured his cuz Reeves as one of the guests as well as Rachelle Ferrell, Norman Brown, Vesta Williams, Lory Perry, Gerald Albright on sax, Ray Brown on trumpet from Earth, Wind & Fire), Paul Jackson, Everette Harp, George Howard and Jonathan Butler.
George Duke’s music has been sampled by several, some include the song “Dukey Stick” that was sampled by Scarface on his track “Let Me Roll”; electronic artists, Daft Punk sampled Duke’s “I Love You More” for their song “Digital Love”; and Sleepy Malo sampled George’s “Reach for It,” for his track “Fuck ‘Um.” Duke has won six Grammy Awards, two NAACP Image Awards and sold multiple gold and platinum records. Believe me when I tell you, we’ve lost one of the great ones. My condolences, love and respect to his friends and family, he put the work in and we are the benefactors.
Duke wrote on his website: “I really think it’s possible (and still do) to make good music and be commercial at the same time. I believe it is the artist’s responsibility to take the music to the people. Art for art’s sake is nice, but if art doesn’t communicate, then its worth is negated. It has not fulfilled its destiny.”
UPDATE 8/15: According to a press release from CentricTV.com: Memorial services for Duke will stream live on the site on Monday, August 19 at 5pm Eastern / 2pm Pacific. George leaves behind two sons, Rashid and John — his wife Corine died last year after her battle with cancer. Duke’s “Celebration of Life” will take place at Lure in Los Angeles, beginning with a special viewing that will highlight the Grammy winner’s life and legacy via photos and video from throughout the years. Following the service, friends of Duke will jam out to his most famous tunes as we reflect on a life well-lived. His cousin Dianne Reeves, Jeffery Osborne, Quincy Jones and Stanley Clarke are all expected to perform.
For the Love of George Duke RIP