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George Duke: Facing the Music

Jeff Winbush By

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AAJ:: You've had an eclectic yet successful career, but you've been accused of selling out and compromising your talent. How do you respond to that criticism?



GD: Most people fall in love with a certain kind of jazz, and they hold on to that, and they don't want it to grow. Jazz is always going to grow in some direction or another. Right now, jazz is going in a direction I don't particularly care for. What smooth jazz has become is not what jazz should be. I defend the right of those guys to play it that way. I don't have to listen to it.

I prefer jazz that is more spontaneous. A lot of my funk stuff is more spontaneous than this smooth jazz that is all planned and worked out. It has no edge to it. I may not be able to explain what jazz is because it's very spiritual, but until you experience it, you don't know. It's like describing the taste of an apple to someone who's never eaten one. I know what jazz is, though my definition is pretty broad. As long as its got some swing, some spontaneity and some life to it, "Yeah man, that's jazz." Just because something is funky doesn't mean it's not jazzy. You would hope someone who likes jazz would be open to other forms of music.

I was at Bern, playing at this festival with my quartet, all acoustic. I've always enjoyed exploring. There's always going to be narrow people. I think jazz needs to be inclusive.

I started listening to the organ player in the church and graduated to Ray Charles, Les McCann, Ramsey Lewis, Wynton Kelly and those kind of players because they had soul in their playing. I eventually found Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea—who, by the way, are both older than me [laughs]. I started listening and being influenced by them because they're great players, but that was later on. From there I started exploring John Coltrane. Later on it was Milton Nascimento and Parliament- Funkadelic.

That's what makes life exciting to me. I didn't just get married to a style. I love spaghetti, but I don't want spaghetti every day. I put my iPod on shuffle because I want to be surprised. I love funk and I love jazz, but I don't want to listen to either one every day. I love listening to music.

AAJ: In the liner notes from Faces in Reflection (MPS, 1974) you're quoted as saying: "As long as I can play what I want to and make a reasonable living I am happy. Making a hit isn't important." Does that quote still hold true for you, 36 years later?

GD: Absolutely. My chances of having another hit record are pretty remote—probably more remote now than it was then. I'm happy if I can play the music I'm led to. That is my joy in life—making the music that I like. And people can dig it or not dig it.

Selected Discography

George Duke, Déjà Vu (Telarc Jazz, 2010)

George Duke, Dukey Treats (Heads Up, 2008)

George Duke, My Soul: The Complete MPS Fusion Recordings (MPS, 2008)

George Duke, Face the Music (BPM, 2003)

George Duke, After Hours (Warner Bros., 1998)

George Duke, Illusions (Warner Bros., 1995)

George Duke, Muir Woods Suite (Warner Bros., 1993)

George Duke, Snapshot (Warner Bros., 1993)

George Duke, Night After Night (Warner Bros., 1989)

George Duke, Guardian of the Light (Epic, 1983)

Stanley Clarke/George Duke, The Clarke/Duke Project (Epic, 1981)

George Duke, Master of the Game (Epic, 1979)

George Duke, A Brazilian Love Affair (Epic, 1979)

George Duke, Don't Let Go (Epic, 1978)

George Duke, Reach For It (Epic, 1977)

Billy Cobham/George Duke, The Cobham/Duke Band: Live on Tour in Europe (Atlantic, 1976)

George Duke, The Aura Will Prevail (MPS, 1976)

Frank Zappa, One Size Fits All (FZ/Ryko, 1975)

George Duke, Faces In Reflection (MPS/Promising Music, 1974)

Frank Zappa, The Grand Wazoo (FZ/Ryko, 1972)

Jean-Luc Ponty, King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa (Pacific Jazz, 1969)

Jean-Luc Ponty, The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with The George Duke Trio (Pacific Jazz, 1969)

Photo Credits

Pages 1, 3, 5, 7: Hans Speekenbrink

Page 2: Susan Gordon

Page 4: Arkady Mitnik

Page 6: Mari Kadanik

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