George Duke: The Master of the Game

Jeff Winbush By

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Going down the list of who Duke played with or produced includes Michael Jackson, Stanley Clarke, Sheila E., Frank Zappa, Jeffrey Osbourne, Deniece Williams, Jean-Luc Ponty, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Billy Cobham, Barry Manilow, Anita Baker, A Taste of Honey, and on and on. Duke liked to work as much as he liked to play and when his career cooled as a musician, he slipped effortlessly into the producer's chair and kept pumpin' out the hits.

I struggled with Duke's last album, Dreamweaver (Heads Up, 2013). It was dedicated to his wife Corrine, who passed away last year. The album has its peaks and valleys and I struggled with writing the review. I didn't feel it was a great record, but I couldn't knock the sincerity behind it.

The promotional video for the album shows a somewhat diminished Duke. I see a man who has lost weight and wearing a hat instead of his usual Afro—possibly to cover hair loss from chemotherapy? Don't know and it's not my business, anyway. Duke cared about the music, not the trapping of stardom. He played with giants, made hits for giants and became a giant without ever losing his humility, humanity or humor. There's the music he made and the many millions he reached for and turned on with the Dukey Stick.

There's also the respect and love George Duke's peers had for him:

"When I was growing up and learning to play guitar in Hawaii, George Duke was one of my heroes. It was a dream come true to play in his band, and I'll always be grateful to him for his supportive attitude—and the way he pushed us all to play the best we could." align=right>—Charles "Icarus" Johnson, writer and blogger, Little Green Footballs and former guitarist in the George Duke Band

"I can't believe that I'm writing these words. George Duke has passed. This one is extra tough. He'd just lost his wife a year ago. George was one of those special human beings who changed the feeling of whatever room he occupied. When you were around him everything just seemed better. Lighter, more positive. Tremendous musician, incredible human being... No one who knew him will be quite the same now that he's moved on." align=right>—Marcus Miller

"George Duke's talent was universal. He could adapt to all forms of jazz, pop, and rock—from Frank Zappa to Miles Davis and everything in between. He died not only of an illness but I think also of a broken heart. His wife Corrine left us last year and they were deeply in love." align=right>—Ramsey Lewis

"Words cannot express the lost of my mentor and friend George Duke. I tried to come see you yesterday. You are now home. I love you." align=right>—Sheila E.

"George Duke's life is to be celebrated because his life was about achievement, discipline, structure, focus, love and extreme ability. George lived life strong. He lived the life of 30 musicians. He attacked life as much as life attacked him. George Duke was a true soldier of music and could very possibly be the nicest man I've ever met......!

"A walking angel....." There isn't a person who can say that once they were in George's presence they didn't feel better! " align=right>—Stanley Clarke

The last thing a man as full of good humor and humility as Duke would want would be for people to mourn him. I can't say I knew Duke, but what I knew of him, he'd probably prefer if everyone just played one of his records—and if it made you happy, Duke would be too.

As legacies go, that's not a bad one.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of George Duke


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