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Jeff Miers: Remembering Jazz/R&B/Funk legend George Duke, who died Monday at age 67

The music world lost a true visionary with the passing of keyboardist/songwriter/producer George Duke on Monday. Duke was 67, and had been battling leukemia, according to a statement from his publicist posted on NPR's web site.

Duke started his career as a jazz pianist working with the likes of Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins. The sophisitication of jazz never left his playing, even as he rose to prominence in the post-60s world of jazz fusion and funk, within which he was a leading light.

For many, however, Duke's greatest contributions to late 20th century music came via his work as a member of Frank Zappa's band. Duke played on Zappa's most jazz-informed recordings, among them "One Size Fits All," "Apostrophe," "Overnight Sensation," "Waka/Jawaka," "Chunga's Revenge," and "The Grand Wazoo." In addition to his dazzling keyboard work, Duke brought a soulfulness to Zappa's music via his singing. One listen to "Inca Roads" confirms the immensity of Duke's talent. Any musician will note the brilliance and mastery on display here, as Duke brings considerable soulfulness to this dizzyingly complex composition. 

Of course, Duke worked with many others, among them Stanley Clark, Jean Luc Ponty, Cannonball Adderly, Billy Cobham, Earth Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson, Quincey Jones, Shuggie Otis, and dozens more.

Duke lost his wife to cancer a little more than a year ago, and at first, it appeared he would never make music again, so deeply did he feel the loss. But in July came the release of "Dream Weaver," an album intended to eulogize Duke's late wife. The record did so in an uplifting and joyous manner, and will now serve as a fitting farewell to Duke himself. 

Buffalo audiences most recently saw Duke 2 and 1/2 years back, when he joined bassist Marcus Miller, saxophonist David Sanborn, and drummer Louis Cato for a fiery, passionate and often ebullient performance at Kleinhans Music Hall. 

We bid a fond farewell to a beautiful musician who brought much joy int the world during hois five decades playing music.  - Jeff Miers

 

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