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Duke of Jazz

George Duke, Duke of Jazz

George Duke (M.A.,’75) can't be pinned down.

A prime mover in the West Coast jazz "fusion revolution," the five-time Grammy- winning keyboardist gleefully jumps from jazz to fusion to funk to rock.
"I’ve always been a musical gumbo," says the legendary creator of funk masterpiece "Dukey Treats." All over the map as a composer and producer, he has famously teamed with icons Miles Davis, Jean Luc Ponty, Dizzy Gillespie and scores of others.

Duke is all over the map in performance as well, this year playing Martinique, Guadeloupe, Jakarta, Tokyo, Mexico and major cities in Europe and the U.S.


In May, he returned to SF State for induction into its Alumni Hall of Fame, in the city where his career began.

During the ’60s and ’70s, San Francisco’s rich mix of musical genres provided Duke with the perfect roux for his musical gumbo. "San Francisco was alive with music then," says the Marin City-raised musician. "[There was] not only jazz, but Santana, Malo, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone."

His work with singer Al Jarreau at San Francisco’s old Half Note club attracted luminaries from another storied night spot, the Both/And. "That’s how I met Cannonball [Adderley]," says Duke, who soon joined the great saxophonist’s group.

Given his skyrocketing career, the young artist’s decision to pursue a master’s in composition raised eyebrows. "Lots of musicians say you don’t need to learn it," Duke says. "But raw talent alone is not enough ... I wanted to try to get deep with this music."

"First, I knew I had something to learn. Second, I wanted a thorough education. I knew it would help me with my career. It set the tone and foundation for what I do."


He found a great teacher in late composer and music professor Henry Onderdonk. "He knew I was a working musician," says Duke. "He was as committed to my earning a degree as I was."

The pair logged in hours of phone time. Lesson plans and tests arrived by snail mail. "I would play a gig at night, come back to the hotel and just study. I used to turn in papers on Holiday Inn stationery. Finally, I had to just stop everything and complete my studies. I had come too far not to get my degree."

Late Latin Jazz vibraphonist Cal Tjader (B.A., ’50), was another early influence. "My first band in high school was a Cal Tjader rip-off," Duke says with a chuckle. He collaborated with Tjader on the Brazilian-flavored "Amazonas."

Duke’s latest release, a jazz/fusion/blues/funk/soul mixture called "Déjà Vu," will be followed by a DVD from last year’s Montreux Jazz Festival and, hopefully, he says, some "time to smell the notes."

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