George Duke

George M. Duke (January 12, 1946 – August 5, 2013) was an American keyboardist, composer, singer-songwriter and record producer. He worked with numerous artists as arranger, music director, writer and co-writer, record producer and as a professor of music. He first made a name for himself with the album The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio. He was known primarily for thirty-odd solo albums, of which A Brazilian Love Affair from 1979 was his most popular, as well as for his collaborations with other musicians, particularly Frank Zappa.

George M Duke was born in San Rafael, California, United States, to Thadd Duke and Beatrice Burrell and raised in Marin City. At four years old, he became interested in the piano. His mother took him to see Duke Ellington in concert and told him about this experience. “I don’t remember it too well, but my mother told me I went crazy. I ran around saying ‘Get me a piano, get me a piano!'” He began his formal piano studies at the age of seven at a local Baptist church.

He attended Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley before earning a bachelor’s degree in trombone and composition with a minor in contrabass from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1967. He earned a master’s degree in composition from San Francisco State University in 1975.

Although Duke started playing classical music, he credited his cousin Charles Burrell for convincing him to switch to jazz.He explained that he “wanted to be free” and Burrell “more or less made the decision for me” by convincing him to “improvise and do what you want to do”. He taught a course on jazz and American culture at Merritt College in Oakland. He died on August 5, 2013, in Los Angeles, at the age of 67 from chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

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