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SCOTT SIMON, host:

I'm going to play something for you now from "Dukey Treats." That's the newest CD by George Duke. Close your eyes, see where you think you are.

(Soundbite of song "Dukey Treats")

SIMON: Well, whatever your particular personal memory might be, we'll just bet it's not set in 2008. This new album from the veteran keyboard player, composer, arranger, and band leader honors funk.

(Soundbite of song "Dukey Treats")

Unidentified Backing Singers: (Singing) Sweet dukey treats.

SIMON: George Duke joins us now from NPR West End. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. GEORGE DUKE (Keyboard Player; Composer; Arranger; Bandleader): My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: You know, this album is so refreshing. It's alt nothing.

Mr. DUKE: Yeah, the essential thing is I had been assaulted by my fans about why don't you do a funk album? And so finally after years of this, I decided let me go ahead and do this. But I wanted it to be on a bed of jazz with a lot of jazz and a lot of fresh spontaneous playing, because I hear a lot of R&B being done nowadays and most of it is really old - I mean, it's the original stuff - but not a lot of new artists that are creating new funk or new R&B in a traditional sense. So I just wanted to bring it up to date and have a good time.

SIMON: Well, let's play a song from "Dukey Treats," if we could. The opening track is "Everyday Hero."

(Soundbite of song "Everyday Hero")

SIMON: Now, you're trying to set the table here?

Mr. DUKE: Yeah, well, I want everybody to know that this record is about fun. You know, of course there's a balance on the record. There's serious subjects tapped. But at the same time, there's a lot of fun and extemporaneous laughter going on in this record, and I wanted that reflected in the album.

(Soundbite of song "Everyday Hero")

Unidentified Backing Singers: (Singing) Everyday hero. Everyday hero. Do it again, everyday hero.

Mr. DUKE: I wanted to touch on a subject which I think, you know, everyday people, you know, they're the heroes, they're the real heroes, not the ones you hear about every day in the news on NPR.

SIMON: I want to ask you about a few more cuts, if we could. Well, "Sudan" and "Are You Ready."

Mr. DUKE: Yeah, well, Sudan is a tragic situation. I believe artists have a tremendous responsibility to talk about, to sing about, to speak about, to write about the problems that are going on in this world. There's more going on in this world than bling-bling booty calls. There's more to write about than just love songs. And so I decided to approach this as a human tragedy, not a political situation, and talk about it. And I enlisted the help of Jonathan Butler and Teena Marie to help me sing this song. So it's an important and one of the more serious songs on the album.

(Soundbite of song "Sudan")

Mr. DUKE, Mr. JONATHAN BUTLER and Ms. TEENA MARIE: (Singing) I've got something to tell you all. Sudan, it's a crying shame. Yeah, yeah. Sudan, it's a crying shame. Politicians squawk, while the U.N. balks, Words in the way. Raids and deaths a comin', Malnutrition and and sobbin', torture everyday. It's the shame of the world, the rape of baby girls. Years of war and toil. Is it no wonder again black scaling(ph) blacks who wins. Palaces with a gun (unintelligible) Sudan, it's a crying shame. Wonder who's to blame. Who's to blame.

Mr. DUKE: Artists, whether they're classical musicians or pop musicians, have always been the reflection of society and in many ways a healing part of whatever is wrong in society. And I think it's important for us to continue to do that, and I don't see enough of it today.

SIMON: I think you might be the only person I can think of, without pressing myself too much, who in one lifetime has worked with both Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, and Cannonball Adderley.

Mr. DUKE: Yes, Scott. That's pretty unique, actually, I must admit. But, you know, even in my production career, I worked with everyone like you say, from Miles Davis to Barry Manilow, and sometimes on the same day. So, I'm the same guy that...

SIMON: Oh my God. I've got to ask. I mean, did you get them confused at one point?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUKE: Oh, you couldn't confuse Miles Davis from Barry Manilow. But they were both great guys. I mean, I learned a lot working with Barry.

SIMON: Could you pick from this album a cut where you think somebody's influence is really apparent, even if just in a personal way to you, and share it with us?

Mr. DUKE: Well, you know, you were talking about the song "Are You Ready." That's a big influence. Earth, Wind and Fire was really - and I know all the guys, they're great guys. They were really influential on me in terms of my quote, unquote, "commercial career," because I thought they found the perfect ingredients to make great music, great lyrics, and still be popular. So "Are You Ready" is a pretty good tribute to Earth, Wind and Fire, I think.

(Soundbite of song "Are You Ready")

Mr. DUKE: (Singing) The difference is together. Come on. Please come home. (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Backing Singers: Are you ready? Are you ready? Reach for the sky, oh!

Mr. DUKE: (Singing) Come on, yeah.

Unidentified Backing Singers: (Singing) Are you ready?

Mr. DUKE (Singing) Come on, yeah.

Unidentified Backing Singers: (Singing) Are you ready?

Mr. DUKE: (Singing) Everybody, come on, yeah.

Unidentified Backing Singers: (Singing) Reach for the sky.

SIMON: You write so much music, and produce so much music, and are involved in so much music, and play so much music. Do you ever just listen?

Mr. DUKE: Oh, absolutely. In my iPod, I tell you, it's pretty diverse, everything from Stravinsky to Sly and the Family Stone. So I do a lot of listening, yeah.

SIMON: Any new artist you want to tip to us?

Mr. DUKE: You know who I'm really liking right now is a young artist named Ledisi who's a great singer. She has yet to be fully tapped in terms of what her talent's all about. She's a great jazz singer, she's a great R&B singer, and I expect great things from her in the future.

SIMON: You've done literally countless albums. What's over the horizon? What interests you?

Mr. DUKE: One thing that I want to do is a big band record. That's something that I have not done. And I've done, you know, little bits and pieces of it on other people's records and things like that, but I've never actually done a George Duke big band record. So, that's on the horizon. And also, I'd like to do a real strong fusion record. And then there are other things that are, you know, more ethnically oriented projects where I take my experience and take them to say Africa or India and deal with musicians who aren't necessarily the popular musicians of the day, but people in the hills who may not even know what a half note or a quarter note - well, they don't know what they are. They just make music because they have to.

SIMON: George, it's been delightful to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Mr. DUKE: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: George Duke. His new release, "Dukey Treats." He joined us from NPR West. And you can hear more of George Duke's music and find out more about George Duke's music and perhaps the meaning of life if you come to our music Web site, npr.org/music.

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