George Duke Day

January 12, 1946 – August 5, 2013

A birthday tribute to the funk and jazz keyboardist

Keyboardist George Duke was born on January 12, 1946 in San Rafael, California.

Duke, who was amazed as a four-year old when he saw a concert by Duke Ellington, began piano lessons when he was seven although he would earn a degree in trombone and composition (with a minor in bass) from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1967.

He recorded his first album (leading an acoustic quartet) in 1966, accompanied the unknown Al Jarreau for a time in San Francisco, and in 1969 teamed up with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty; they would both join Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention.

Duke, who began playing electric keyboards in 1969, made further recordings with Ponty in addition to the Gerald Wilson Big Band, and worked with Dexter Gordon a bit in 1970.

He played with Frank Zappa for two years, was with Cannonball Adderley in 1971-73, and then had a second stint with Zappa before going out on his own

Always reaching beyond jazz, George Duke’s own albums after the early 1970s tended to be r&b or funk-oriented, he became a notable record producer for r&b and pop groups by the 1980s and also sang, only performing jazz on a rare basis during his last few decades.

George Duke is heard at his best on two numbers with his quintet which features drummer Billy Cobham.


George Duke, keyboards
Brian Simpson, keyboards
Ray Fuller, guitar
Larry Kimpel, bass
Billy Cobham, drums

-Scott Yanow


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