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March 20, 2012

Q&A: George Duke

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One of the most versatile players in jazz is George Duke. Whether he is playing in a straight ahead trio context or backing a vocalist or playing funk or producing, George is just one of those musical genius types that can comfortably fit in anywhere.

Although he has had great success in a lot of crossover projects, I think he shines brightest in a standard trio environment with piano, bass and drums. As you will read in this Q&A, his story is fascinating and he is a truly one of the most unique and positive musical souls you will ever meet. - JV

How did you first discover jazz?
I grew up in a sort of two apartments (placed back to back) building. My bedroom was right next to a virile young single man’s bedroom who by chance would listen to jazz every weekend while screwing some lady until the sun came up. From that experience I began looking through my uncle Jeff’s stack of 78′s, where I came across an old Woody Herman record that I played until it wouldn’t play anymore. I don’t remember the name of the tune, but it was the ultimate in swing.

What was the first recording you ever purchased?
The first record I purchased was “Hard Times” by David “Fathead” Newman produced by Ray Charles. David was the most soulful sax player I had ever heard, and the songs were a kind of cross between jazz and what they called soul music at the time, but in an instrumental context.

Name one of your greatest creative influences and why?
Though I had other major influences in my early musical life, no one made a greater impact on me than Miles Davis. I loved the way Miles played melodies – the way he phrased – his choice of notes. There was no one else that could own a melody and bend it to his wishes like Miles.

What made you decide to become a musician?
Love!

Name one recording that you cannot live without.
Stravinsky “Rite Of Spring”

What is the best thing about playing jazz?
Freedom of expression! When a band is “on,” and everyone is on the same page, riding the same wave or flying the same starship, jazz is every bit as good as the best sex on the planet! Also the loyalty and passion of the fans.

What is your favorite escape?
Movies, Basketball, Football

Name a few of your musical guilty pleasures.
Sometimes I play too many notes, or will play certain technically challenging phrases just to demonstrate that I can, or make musicians say “wow”!! Sometimes I become so involved in orchestration, that I tend to loose sight of what makes a song work in the first place, but the orchestration feels “sooo goood.” I’ve always felt that playing music, at its’ best, is an explorative experience. During live performances I try to give the audience what they want, but also give them what they need, or perform some music that they will not necessarily hear on the radio! It’s all about the music – all about the balance!

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George Duke

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