George Duke

George Duke

Duke at the Montreux Jazz Festival, 1986
Background information
Born (1946-01-12)January 12, 1946
San Rafael, California, U.S.
Died August 5, 2013(2013-08-05) (aged 67)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres Jazz fusion, R&B, funk, alternative rock, rock and roll, jazz pop, post-disco,[1] crossover jazz,[1] smooth jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, Composer, Musical director, Producer, Educator
Instruments Vocals, piano, synthesizer, saxophone, keytar, flute, bass guitar, trombone
Years active 1967–2013
Labels Pacific Jazz, Pickwick, MPS/SABA, MPS/BASF, Atlantic, Epic/CBS, Elektra, Warner Bros., Bizarre, Telarc Jazz, Heads Up
Associated acts Stanley Clarke, Lynn Davis, Al Jarreau, Third World, Stevie Wonder, Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio, Frank Zappa, Cannonball Adderley
Notable instruments
Moog synthesizer, Clavinet
External video
Oral History, George Duke talks about making music in the days before midi. Interview date July 20, 2010, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Oral History Library

George Duke (January 12, 1946 August 5, 2013) was an American musician, known as a keyboard pioneer, composer, singer and producer in both jazz and popular mainstream musical genres. 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.


Early life

George Duke was born in San Rafael, California. He was 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.[2]

Duke attended Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley before earning a bachelor's degree in trombone and composition with a minor in contrabass, from the San Francisco Conservatory in 1967.[2] Playing initially with friends from garages to local clubs, Duke quickly eased his way into session work, which refined his abilities and expanded his approach to music. He later earned his master's degree in composition from San Francisco State University. He also taught a course on Jazz And American Culture at Merritt College in Oakland.[2]


Beginning in 1967 Duke experimented further with jazz fusion, playing and recording with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, as well as performing with the Don Ellis Orchestra, and Cannonball Adderley's band, while he acquainted himself with Frank Zappa.[1] Duke appeared on a number of Frank Zappa's albums through the 1970s.

Frank Zappa played guitar solos on Duke's 1974 album, Feel - the instrumental "Old Slippers", and "Love" - credited as Obdewl'l X,[3] possibly due to contractual reasons.

Duke covered two Zappa-composed songs on his 1975 album, The Aura Will Prevail,[3] - "Uncle Remus" (co-written with Duke) and "Echidna's Arf" - that he had played on while a member of The Mothers on Zappa's albums.

A further Zappa connection occurred on Duke's other album from 1975, I Love the Blues She Heard Me Cry - which utilized Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler, and Bruce Fowler from Zappa's Overnite Sensation band that Duke was a part of, along with Zappa-associate Johnny "Guitar" Watson[3] and jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour.[4]

Duke served as a record producer and composer on two instrumental tracks on Miles Davis albums: "Backyard Ritual" (from Tutu, 1986) and "Cobra" (from Amandla, 1989). He has also worked with a number of Brazilian musicians, including singer Milton Nascimento, percussionist Airto Moreira and singer Flora Purim. Lynn Davis and Sheila E appeared on Duke's late-1970s solo albums Don't Let Go and Master of the Game.

Duke was prominent in the R&B genre, releasing funk-based songs like "Reach for It" and "Dukey Stick". In 1979 he traveled to Rio de Janeiro, where he recorded the album A Brazilian Love Affair, on which he employed singers Flora Purim and Milton Nascimento and percussionist Airto Moreira. The album contained music in a wide assortment of genres, including some Latin jazz and jazz-influenced material. From a jazz standpoint, the album's most noteworthy songs include Nascimento's "Cravo e Canela", "Love Reborn", and "Up from the Sea It Arose and Ate Rio in One Swift Bite". The track "Brazilian Sugar" was featured on the 2006 video game Dead or Alive Xtreme 2. Meanwhile, Nascimento's vocal on the ballad "Ao Que Vai Nascer" is an example of Brazilian pop at its most sensuous. The 1992 film Leap of Faith featured gospel songs and choir produced by George Duke and choir master Edwin Hawkins.

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.[5] Duke was also a judge for the second annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.[6]

Duke worked with Jill Scott on her third studio album, The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3; guesting on the track, "Whenever You're Around". In the summer of 2011, he put together a trio with David Sanborn and Marcus Miller for a tour across the US of more than 20 sold out shows.

Legacy and influence

Duke died August 5, 2013 in Los Angeles from chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He was 67 and was survived by his sons, Rashid and John. He was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills), following a memorial service.[7] Attendees included notable friends Chaka Khan, Lynn Davis, Sheila E., Malcolm Jamal Warner, Stanley Clarke, Al Jarreau, his niece Dianne Reeves, Jeffrey Osborne, Stevie Wonder, Marcus Miller, and Doug E. Fresh.

Duke's songs have been used by a wide variety of contemporary musicians in a wide array of genres. These include: "I Love You More", sampled by house music-act Daft Punk for their hit "Digital Love"; "Guilty", sampled by electronica music artist Mylo in his song "Guilty of Love" on Destroy Rock & Roll. "For Love", sampled by underground hip hop artist MF Doom on his track "I Hear Voices"; "Someday", sampled by hip hop artist/producer Kanye West for Common in "Break My Heart" on his "Finding Forever" album; "You and Me", sampled and used by soul/rhythm and blues influenced hip hop-producer 9th Wonder on the track "Spirit Of '94" on the album Spirit Of '94: Version 9.0 which he made with Kaze; and "Reach for It", sampled by Ice Cube in "True to the Game" on his Death Certificate album and Spice 1 in "In My Neighborhood" on his self-titled debut album, and sampled by W.C. & The Maad Circle (featuring Mack 10 & Ice Cube) in "West Up" on their "Curb Servin'" album. Madlib utilized Duke's "My Soul" on the track "Mingus" from his "Madlib Medicine Show #8: Advanced Jazz" album.

Duke was nominated for a Grammy as Best Contemporary Jazz Performance for After Hours in 1999.[8] By popular vote, Duke was inducted into The SoulMusic Hall Of Fame at in December 2012.[9]

On August 5, 2014, exactly one year after Duke’s death, Al Jarreau, Duke’s long-time friend, released an album titled, “My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke”, as a tribute to his music. The album featured 10 songs, all 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 and many others to help create this tribute to Duke’s music. The album was released on Concord Records and it garnered the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album.[10]


Clarke and Duke in concert

As leader

Title YearLabel
George Duke Quartet Presented by the Jazz Workshop 1 1966 MPS,SABA
The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio 1969 Pacific Jazz
Save the Country 2 1970 Pickwick
Solus 3 1971 MPS,SABA
The Inner Source (2-LP) 1973 MPS/BASF
Faces in Reflection 1974 MPS/BASF
Feel 1974 MPS/BASF
The Aura Will Prevail 1974 MPS/BASF
I Love the Blues, She Heard My Cry 1975 MPS/BASF
Liberated Fantasies 1976 MPS/BASF
The Billy Cobham – George Duke Band 'Live' on Tour in Europe 1976 Atlantic
The Dream 4 1976 MPS/BASF
From Me to You 1977 Epic/CBS
Reach for It 1977 Epic/CBS
Don't Let Go 1978 Epic/CBS
Follow the Rainbow 1979 Epic/CBS
Master of the Game 1979 Epic/CBS
A Brazilian Love Affair 1980 Epic/CBS
Clarke/Duke Project 1981 Epic/CBS
Dream On 1982 Epic/CBS
Clarke/Duke Project 2 1983 Epic/CBS
Guardian of the Light 1983 Epic/CBS
Rendezvous 1984 Epic/CBS
Thief in the Night 1985 Elektra
George Duke 1986 Elektra
Night After Night 1989 Elektra
Clarke/Duke Project 3 1990 Epic/CBS
Snapshot 1992 Warner Bros.
Muir Woods Suite 5 1993 Warner Bros.
Illusions 1995 Warner Bros.
Is Love Enough 1997 Warner Bros.
After Hours 1998 Warner Bros.
Cool 2000 Warner Bros.
Face the Music 2002 Bizarre Planet
Duke 2005 Bizarre Planet
In a Mellow Tone 2006 Bizarre Planet
Dukey Treats 2008 Heads Up
Déjà Vu 2010 Telarc Jazz
Dreamweaver 2013 Heads Up

1 Rereleased as "The Primal" by MPS in 1978.
2 Rereleased as "Pacific Jazz" by United Artists in 1978 albeit with a different track listing.
3 Solus was recorded in April 1971 and intended to be released as a single album by SABA but when SABA folded and became MPS the powers that be decided to postpone its release. They finally put it out as a double album in 1976 together with George's MPS debut "The Inner Source". The latter was recorded in October 1971.
4 Recorded in 1976 and released in 1978 (Europe-only). Released in the USA (in a slightly different version) as "The 1976 Solo Keyboard Album" by Epic/CBS in 1982.
5 Recorded in 1993 at the Montreaux jazz festival but the release got postponed until 1996.


Title YearLabelEAN
The Essential George Duke (2CD) 2004 Sony 4606817001313
My Soul - The Complete MPS Fusion Recordings (4CD) 2008 Universal 0602517515048

As sideman

With Al Jarreau

With Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention

With Third World

With The Keynotes

With Gene Ammons

With Billy Cobham

With Eddie Henderson

With Alphonse Mouzon

With Airto Moreira

With Flora Purim

With Michael Jackson

With Jean-Luc Ponty

With Deniece Williams

With Miles Davis

With Dianne Reeves

With John Scofield

With Chanté Moore

With Joe Sample

With Phil Collins

With Regina Belle

With Teena Marie

With Joe Williams

With Gerald Wilson

With Larisa Dolina


  1. 1 2 3 Artist Biography by Thom Jurek (1946-01-12). "George Duke | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  2. 1 2 3 "George Duke biography". George Duke Online. Retrieved January 30, 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 Watson, Ben, Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play, St Martin's Press, New York, 1993, p. 294.
  4. I Love the Blues She Heard Me Cry, MPS Records-BAP 5071/BASF 5071/MPS Records MC 25671, 1975, sleeve notes
  5. "Sunday Night" episodes No.104 (1988), No.113 (1989), No.114 (1989), No.121 (1989)
  6. "Independent Music Awards". Independent Music Awards. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  7. "Jazz keyboardist George Duke dies at 67 - MSN Music News". Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  8. "George Duke". Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  9. "". Retrieved 2013-02-04.
  10. Mitchell, Gail (August 5, 2014). "Al Jarreau Salutes George Duke on New Star-Packed Album". Billboard. Billboard. Retrieved January 30, 2016.
  11. Album Hollywood Mood on Discogs
  12. Album Route 55 on Discogs
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