George Duke, who began his career as a jazz pianist in the 1960s but made his name by crossing musical boundaries, died last Monday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 67. The name of the instrument with which Mr. Duke is perhaps most closely associated also describes his approach to music: synthesizer. “While he remained a respected figure in the jazz world, over the years he also played keyboards with Frank Zappa and Michael Jackson, sang lead on a Top 20 single and produced pop and rhythm-and-blues hits for others. His work has been sampled by hip-hop and electronic artists, including Daft Punk. ” (New York Times, 8-7)
“Mr. Duke was born on Jan. 12, 1946, in San Rafael, Calif, near San Francisco. He grew up listening to gospel music in the Baptist church his family attended. He graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1967.
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 the avant-garde musician Frank Zappa. Duke appeared on a number of Frank Zappa’s albums through the 1970s.
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 notable Brazilian musicians, including singer Milton Nascimento, percussionist Airto Moreira and singer Flora Purim.” (wikipedia.org)
Critics said that Duke’s music was not challenging enough, and that he was too eager to court a broad audience. He disagreed.
“I really think it’s possible (and still do) to make good music and be commercial at the same time,” Mr. Duke wrote. “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.” (NYTimes)
For further information, look at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Duke, and a recent George Duke interview: http://youtu.be/_SMBgh9n6aA.
George Duke Trio with Jean-Luc Ponty (1969):