America

George Duke, Legendary Jazz Keyboardist, Dies

George Duke. i i

hide captionGeorge Duke.

Courtesy of the artist
George Duke.

George Duke.

Courtesy of the artist

George Duke, the legendary jazz keyboardist, died on Monday, his publicist tells NPR.

Duke's career spanned five decades and he always straddled the line between disparate genres, collaborating with artists such as Miles Davis, Barry Manilow, Frank Zappa, George Clinton and some of Brazil's top musicians.

Here's how NPR's Felix Contreras describes him:

"He was also a very successful record producer who worked with folks like Gladys Knight, The Pointer Sisters, Anita Baker, Rachelle Ferrell.

"As an instrumentalist he started by working with Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon. But he made his mark in the jazz fusion vein, most notably with fellow fusion musicians Stanley Clarke and Billy Cobham. He had a series of respected fusion albums going back to the late 1970's.

"From the mid '60s, he also worked as a member of Frank Zappa's recording and touring band. Most recently he had been a big draw at jazz fests around the world that catered to the mix of R&B and jazz artists."

When Duke spoke to Weekend Edition in 2008, he told Scott Simon that he could not recall how many albums he'd put out.

"I'm kinda like [John] McCain in that way: He doesn't know how many houses he's got; I don't know how many albums I've got," Duke joked.

Duke was 67. His record label said he died after a battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

A little more than a year ago, Duke's wife died of cancer. Duke was devastated and could not make music for months. But, earlier this month, Duke released "DreamWeaver," which the AP's Charles J. Gans says tied up Duke's eclectic career in a lush tribute to his wife.

"Duke expresses his love for his late wife on the tender, piano-driven ballad 'Missing You,' a romantic vocal duet with Rachelle Ferrell," Gans wrote. "The album ends by turning the cowboy ballad 'Happy Trails' — Dale Evans' closing theme to 'The Roy Rogers Show' — into a soulful, heartfelt farewell to his wife, made even more poignant by the sudden death of guitarist Jef Lee Johnson shortly after he recorded the fadeout guitar solo."

In a promotional interview released by his record label, Concord, Duke sounded excited about his new record.

YouTube

"I don't want people to get the idea that this is a morbid record, because it's more about celebration," Duke said.

In 1994, Duke appeared on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, where he performs his tune "Geneva" and duets with McPartland in "My Funny Valentine." We'll leave you with that performance:

Listen Now

57 min 40 sec
 

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: