Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Keeping Traditions.... Soul-Funk-Jazz... R.I.P. George Duke

I was chatting with one of my older cousins a few weeks back. He was taking about being at a tribal community event and looking around wondering where the elders were, until it dawned on him: half of who he was looking for has already passed on and even more profound, he is now one of the elders. He immediately began to think about our traditions and how they need to be passed on to younger folks and up and coming generations.

This is true for some many reasons. One of them that hit me like a ton of bricks in the gut was getting the news that music master, George Duke passed away last night, August 5, 2013. One of the trail-blazing masters of jazz who played funk and r&b, adding class and depth to a myriad of pop recordings with his amazing work as a keyboardist, arranger, composer, band director, and producer.

Jazz training is the rudiment of almost all forms of American music, in that a jazz player can play anything; blues, soul, rock, funk, reggae, ska, calypso, socca, new age, etc. Both Berry Gordy and James Brown knew where to go to find the players to back up their musical visions; as the entire James Brown band and the majority of Motown session players were serious jazz musicians, who Gordy went and collected from the jazz clubs around Detroit. The trail-blazing players of the 1960's and 1970's, like Mr. Duke unknowingly created a new tradition for the jazz players who followed, as we found ourselves playing behind gospel singers, hip-hop artists, folk singer, Afro-Cuban singers and horn players and so on.

When we met in New York City at Sweetwaters, it was a very brief meeting and a very brief discussion. It was almost 30 years ago and still feels like yesterday. I asked, "What would you suggest to a keyboardist who's trying to increase his chops?" He answered, "Listen to a lot more horn players and horn sections." I chuckled but he went on to say, "Horn sections have the interesting chord voicing, they have all of the cool passing tones and can switch from rhythm to melody or counter melody in the blink of an eye.

You will be missed, Mr. Duke and many, many, many thank yous for the mazing things you've done for the music of the world.

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