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George Duke

George Duke American musician

American musician
George Duke
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American musician
Was Musician Pianist Composer Jazz musician Film score composer
From United States of America
Gender male
Birth 12 January 1946, San Rafael, Marin County, California, U.S.A.
Death 5 August 2013, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, U.S.A. (aged 67 years)
George Duke
The details


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.

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. 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.

Although he started out playing classical music he credited that his cousin Charles Burrell (musician) 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". Later he taught a course on Jazz And American Culture at Merritt College in Oakland.


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. 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, possibly due to contractual reasons.

Duke covered two Zappa-composed songs on his 1975 album, The Aura Will Prevail, - "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 and jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour.

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 occasionally recorded under the name Dawilli Gonga, possibly for contractual reasons, when appearing on other artists albums, such as Lee Ritenour's Captain Fingers album (1977), Billy Cobham, David Sanborn and others.

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

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. 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. By popular vote, Duke was inducted into The SoulMusic Hall Of Fame at SoulMusic.com in December 2012.

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.


Clarke and Duke in concert

As leader

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

As sideman

With Al Jarreau

  • Breakin' Away (Warner Bros. Records 1981)

With Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention

  • Chunga's Revenge (Bizarre/Reprise, 1970)
  • 200 Motels (United Artists, 1971)
  • Waka/Jawaka (Bizarre/Reprise, 1972)
  • The Grand Wazoo (Bizarre/Reprise, 1972)
  • Over-Nite Sensation (DiscReet, 1973)
  • Apostrophe (') (DiscReet, 1974)
  • Roxy & Elsewhere (DiscReet, 1974)
  • One Size Fits All (DiscReet, 1975)
  • Bongo Fury (DiscReet, 1975)
  • Studio Tan (DiscReet, 1978)
  • Sleep Dirt (DiscReet, 1979)
  • Them or Us (Barking Pumpkin, 1984)
  • You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 2 (Rykodisc, 1988)
  • Läther (Rykodisc, 1996)
  • The Dub Room Special (Zappa, 2007)
  • Road Tapes, Venue 2 (Zappa, 2013)
  • A Token Of His Extreme (Zappa, 2013)
  • Roxy by Proxy (Zappa, 2014)

With Third World

  • Lagos Jump (CBS 1983)
  • Try Jah Love (CBS 1982)

With The Keynotes

  • Get On That Gospel Train (MPS, 1973)

With Gene Ammons

  • Brasswind (Prestige, 1974)

With Billy Cobham

  • Crosswinds (Atlantic, 1974)
  • B.C. (Columbia, 1979)
  • Picture This (GRP, 1987)

With Eddie Henderson

  • Sunburst (Blue Note, 1975)

With Alphonse Mouzon

  • The Man Incognito (Blue Note, 1975)

With Airto Moreira

  • Virgin Land (Salvation, 1974)

With Flora Purim

  • Stories To Tell (Milestone Records, 1974)
  • Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly (Milestone Records, 1976)
  • That's What She Said (Milestone Records, 1978)
  • Carry On (Warner Bros, 1979)

With Michael Jackson

  • Off the Wall (Epic, 1979)

With Jean-Luc Ponty

  • King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa (World Pacific/Liberty, 1970)
  • Individual Choice (Atlantic, 1983)

With Deniece Williams

  • Let's Hear It For the Boy (Columbia, 1984)
  • Love, Niecy Style (Shanachie, 2007)

With Miles Davis

  • Tutu (Warner Bros, 1986)
  • Amandla (Warner Bros, 1989)

With Dianne Reeves

  • Dianne Reeves (Blue Note, 1987)
  • Never Too Far (EMI, 1989)
  • Quiet After the Storm (Blue Note, 1995)
  • Bridges (Blue Note, 1999)
  • In the Moment – Live in Concert (Blue Note, 2000)
  • Beautiful Life (Concord, 2014)

With John Scofield

  • Loud Jazz (Gramophone, 1988)

With Chanté Moore

  • Precious (Silas/MCA, 1992)
  • A Love Supreme (Silas/MCA, 1994)
  • Love the Woman (Peak, 2008)

With Joe Sample

  • Sample This (Warner Bros, 1997)

With Phil Collins

  • A Hot Night in Paris (Atlantic, 1999)

With Regina Belle

  • Lazy Afternoon (2004)

With Teena Marie

  • Congo Square (2009)

With Joe Williams

  • Joe Williams Live (1973)

With Gerald Wilson

  • Eternal Equinox (Pacific Jazz, 1969)

With Larisa Dolina

  • Hollywood Mood (2008)
  • Route 55 (2010)

With Kirk Whalum

  • The Gospel According to Jazz: Chapter 1 (Warner Gospel, 1998)
  • The Gospel According to Jazz: Chapter 2 (Word Entertainment, 2002)
  • The Gospel According to Jazz: Chapter III (Rendezvous, 2010)
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