Tributes have been pouring in for keyboard maestro/producer George Duke, who passed away at the age of 67 last Monday (August 5) at St. John’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Duke had succumbed to chronic lymphocytic leukemia. (Duke’s wife Corine died from cancer last year).
Duke graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory in 1967 and soon worked with Jean-Luc Ponty as well as the Don Ellis Orchestra and Cannonball Adderley’s band. He released his first album in 1966 and went on to release another 38 albums with his own band or in collaboration with other musicians such as Ponty, Stanley Clarke and Billy Cobham.
He recorded and toured with Frank Zappa throughout the ’70s and played keyboards and synthesizer on Michael Jackson’s 1979 album, Off The Wall. In the ’80s Duke worked on two Miles Davis albums – Tutu and Amandla – and also recorded with Al Jarreau, Airto, Dianne Reeves, John Scofield, Joe Sample, Phil Collins and more.
Nile Rogers tweeted: ‘George Duke RIP my co-music director Montreux Jazz 2006 – Your funk made us,’ while George Clinton wrote: ‘Our thoughts + prayers to your family. Rest in peace George Duke.’
Justin Timberlake praised Duke as one of his inspirations, writing: ‘RIP George Duke. Funk, Jazz, Music legend… One of the greatest.’
R&B superstar Anita Baker writes,’R.I.P. George Duke, legendary jazz/funk keyboardist/producer,’ while songwriter Diane Warren offers, ‘So sorry to hear of the passing of George Duke. Thank U (sic) for the music. Legend.’
Duke’s label Concord Records noted: ‘With almost a half a century career, Duke was one of the world’s most prolific jazz legends. From leading a jazz trio with a young Al Jarreau during his formative years to working with Jean-Luc Ponty, to his incredible work with Cannonball Adderley, drummer Billy Cobham, and Frank Zappa, to his cherished stream of jazz-funk records in the ’70s, Duke found his mark not only in his eclecticism, but also his signature approach to the synthesizer, which often prized less pyrotechnics in favor of blues elements.’
Duke’s last album, Dreamweaver, released just last month, was a tribute to his late wife and featured long-time collaborator Stanley Clarke on bass.
You can read a 2008 feature on George Duke by Brian Wise at: The Duke of Jazz