ABOVE PHOTO: George Duke
(AP Photo/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott, File)
By Mesfin Fekadu
NEW YORK—A representative says Grammy-winning jazz keyboardist and producer George Duke, whose sound infused acoustic jazz, electronic jazz, funk, R&B and soul, has died. He was 67.
The representative said Duke died Monday night in Los Angeles. He was being treated for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
During his 40-year-plus career, Duke appeared on a number of Frank Zappa’s albums and played in the Don Ellis Orchestra and Cannonball Adderley’s band. He played keyboard on Michael Jackson’s multiplatinum 1979 album, “Off the Wall,” and was a producer for Miles Davis, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick and Natalie Cole.
This is how NPR’s Felix Contreras described 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.
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.” He also released more than 30 solo albums.