Birthplace: San Rafael, CA
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: Cancer - Leukemia
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Occupation: Jazz Musician
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Jazz/Funk keyboardist
George Duke first received his inspiration to pursue music as a lifestyle at a Duke Ellington concert when he was four years old; by the age of seven he had begun his study of the piano, and by sixteen he was performing in high school jazz bands. He pursued his music education up through the university level, while working at the same time in San Francisco jazz clubs such as The Both and The Half Note -- serving at the latter as part of the house band with singer Al Jarreau. This would prove an important formative experience in Duke's career, providing him the opportunity to perform with a variety of established names such as Sonny Rollins.
Following the completion of his master's degree, a brief period was spent as a teacher, but Duke quickly moved on to a recording career. By 1969 he had formed The George Duke Trio with French electric violinist Jean-Luc Ponty; the band toured Europe and the States, establishing their own unique niche in the burgeoning jazz fusion scene. By the end of the year he had been invited to join a new line-up of The Mothers of Invention by Frank Zappa, but by the end of 1970 he was offered a high-profile gig with veteran player Cannonball Adderley that he felt he could not turn down. Work with Zappa resumed in 1972 -- this time with Ponty in the band as well (Zappa having earlier produced a album of his own compositions performed by Ponty and featuring performances by Duke) -- and would continue for the next three years. This would be another important period in the development of Duke's musical approach, with Zappa encouraging the use of electronics and a sense of humor, as well as loosening up the keyboardist's academic mindset. In 1975 he would co-found another jazz fusion outfit, before deciding to pursue a solo career in 1976 with the release of From Me To You.
Duke's solo work throughout the remainder of the 70s would continue to draw upon his jazz-fusion background, while also introducing a strong leaning towards funk and a generous helping of the humor he had developed with Zappa. By the release of Reach For It in 1978, he had moved from being a well-established name in the jazz world to a charting mainstream performer. A parallel career as a producer was initiated at this time, and by the mid-1980s Duke had guided the creation of major hit songs by A Taste of Honey, Jeffrey Osborne, Deniece Williams, and even Barry Manilow. He would also score a #1 single for himself with Sweet Baby, a track done in collaboration with bassist Stanley Clarke.
As the 80s progressed, George Duke's output steadily began to veer towards a more commercial, easy-listening form of jazz, but never to the point of completely lacking some creative spark. Further aspects to his music career became more prominent during the decade, with Duke serving as musical director for a wide variety of projects, including charity events, television specials, political gatherings and numerous festivals; scoring for televison and film entered into his field of endeavor as well. In the 90s his solo work once again to explore his funk and jazz-fusion roots, as well as broadening to include orchestral works such as 1994's Muir Woods Suite. He continued to remain active with recording, producing, and all of his other numerous forms of work, until leukemia ended his life in 2013..
University: BA Compositon, San Francisco Conservatory (1967)
University: MA Composition, San Francisco State University
The George Duke Trio Bandleader/Keyboardist (1968-69)
The Mothers of Invention Keyboardist (1969-75)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
200 Motels (10-Nov-1971) · Mother of Invention
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