George Duke

Today, members of the music industry and the public at large awoke this morning with the news of the passing of Mr. George Duke, who was an award winning virtuosic keyboardist, top producer, superb vocalist and teacher.  He was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, an incurable cancer of the blood and bone marrow that took his life August 5, 2013 at a Los Angeles hospital.   To me, George Duke, represented the best type of musician in that he embraced all of the various flavors of music and often merged them into yet a new sound that defied categorization!!   I remember first hearing of him in 1974 during the time I was stationed in Germany during my stint in the U.S. Army.  He was a member of the Frank Zappa Band and I noticed right away that the music was very fast and challenging, thusly being a keyboardist myself I was curious as to who was holding down the keyboard parts.  When I got a glimpse of the album cover that was handed to me and checked the credits, I saw this photo of a black man who sported an afro standing over the keyboards!   Needless to say, I was quite impressed, this lone black guy playing in an all white band which was not the norm back then.   Then I listened to more of the music and realized all of the players were really proficient in their instruments.  This prompted me to find the music book or charts for this music, in which I did!   My suspicions were correct, there were a lot of  sixteenth notes and crazy chord structures that intrigued me!   Subsequently, after my stint in the service, I began looking for more music from this guy and found a number of album projects that featured him and other great players such as Lee Ritenour, Ian and Ruth Underwood,  Byron Miller and Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chandler to name a few!!   George Duke to me led by example, when he illustrated certain points regarding improvisation (in his music instruction videos) for example, he broke it down so nicely, that you were able to come away with a much better understanding of what it all meant!!  I began to transcribe a lot of his songs, because his compositional skills were extraordinary and I wanted to urgently capture the chord voicings he would use to achieve those glorious sounds!   In fact, a number of chords that are in my personal vocabulary came from his compositions directly!!   Even in his concerts, he was very generous, and that he would sometimes during a set call to the stage any brave soul that would, come up and jam with him!  I ‘jammed’ with him twice, once at the now defunct Bottom Line Club in New York back in 1992 and also at a music industry event held at the Central Park Boat House in NYC.  What a great experience that was to be allowed as an member of the audience, to come up and be a part of the show!  I will never forget that, and it has left a lasting impression on me and spurred me on to accomplish some of the things I have in recent years, such as publishing a music instruction manual for keyboardists and releasing my own CD projects!   I got a chance to see him at New York City’s BB Kings Club in the Summer of 2012, a few weeks prior to his wife Corrine’s passing.  He and Stanley Clarke along with a couple of other players put on a spectacular show and I left there even more impressed and determined.   Mind you, he had to have had the burden of realizing his wife and soulmate was soon to be in transition, nevertheless he played with such conviction and humor and skill along with Stanley, that I knew I had to step up my game!  Yes, George Duke will be sorely missed, but he has left a vast amount of music and memories that his friends and fans will not forget any time soon!!   Enjoy your trip my brother!!

Leave a Reply