In Memoriam George Duke 1946-2013

Is it me or do great musicians appear to be dying too many at a time these days? Yesterday, the message of George Duke’s death shocked me deeply. Not only was I not aware of his leukemia – something that hasn’t been given a great deal of public attention, quite likely by Duke’s own wish – but I loved George Duke as a musician with a great passion. He was one of the guys that made Jazz actually seem cool to me and I think that on the other side, he changed a lot of Jazz listeners’ attitude toward Pop and Rock as well.

Now, every musician that played with Frank Zappa throughout the seventies is a hero in my book. Duke played in his band almost the entire decade and contributed greatly to those brilliant albums, including my favorite ‘Over-Nite Sensation’. The recently released DVD ‘A Token Of His Extreme’ shows Duke as well as Zappa (along an especially smoking Napoleon Murphy Brock, Chester Thompson en Ruth Underwood, who are luckily still alive) absolutely on fire. And that’s what we are missing out on these days.

But Zappa wasn’t the only legend George Duke has worked with. Duke accompanied such greats as Billy Cobham, Miles Davis, Jean-Luc Ponty, John Scofield, Al Jarreau and many, many more as well as releasing a couple of fantastic records as a band leader. His work with bass player extraordinaire Stanley Clarke is legendary as well. And I will always remember the sincere smile with which he delivered most of his material.

And although we have lost another great musician – one of the best even – we can only hope that Duke doesn’t suffer anymore. Not only was he receiving treatment for his leukemia, he had also just overcome a deep depression following the death of his wife Corine. I can only hope for him that I’m wrong about life after death and that he can be with Corine again. And possibly jam with Miles and Zappa again.

Through this way, I’d like to wish Duke’s sons Rasheed and John all the best dealing with the burden of losing both their parents in only slightly more than a year. Looking at my parents, I can’t think of anything worse. And for those of you not knowing what we – as lovers of music – will be missing out on, check out this video of Zappa and Duke at their prime. George Duke, your smile and your impeccable keyboard work will be missed.

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