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George Duke Dies, Aged 67

By , Editor | The Jazz Line

George Duke has passed away at the age of 67.

The keys master had been battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia for some time, and is believed to have succumb to the disease.

Former Supremes member Scherrie Payne confirmed that Duke died just yesterday on August 5.

In a statement to the Mowtown Alumni Association, Payne wrote: “I just received the devastating and sad news that the great musician, George Duke, passed away this evening at St. John’s hospital in L.A.”

Payne went on to reflect on how close Duke’s death is to his late wife’s, saying: “It was just one year earlier, July 18th, that his beloved wife and my friend, Corine, went to be with the Lord.”

Duke’s latest album ‘Dreamweaver’ was released on July 16, and stands as a heartfelt tribute to his late wife Corine, who died of cancer on July 18, 2012.

“My wife passed in July last year, it was very tough. I would come down to the studio, and it’s never been difficult for me to record – It’s like water running down the sink. But now, i’d come in here and it was like ‘Not Today.'” Duke later attended the Capital Jazz Supercruise to get away for a while, and found himself watching the sunrise, which inspired him to write for the first time since is wife’s passing.

“I started to see the sun come up over the horizon and ideas began for flow, it was a gift. There’s a tune called ‘Missing You’ which is one of the tunes i wrote on the boat that morning, which is a song that was specifically written for my wife. In order for me to come in this studio and finish the record, I decided to change the lyrics and make it more generic. But I’ll always know what it was.”

‘Dreamweaver’ has received much critical acclaim, and held the #1 spot in the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart last week.

Duke was born in San Rafael, CA on January 12, 1946. He had always been musically inclined throughout his childhood, having taken piano lessons from the age of 7, having been inspired by gospel music played on the keyboard at his local church. He eventually went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Trombone and Composition (with a minor in Contrabass) from the San Francisco Conservatory in 1967. He later went to earn a Masters Degree in composition from San Francisco State University in 1975.

While he is best known for his work as a bandleader in Jazz, Duke is credited as a keyboard innovator across many genres. His work with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, and their live-album ‘Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio’ (1969) serve as one of the earliest examples of Jazz fusion in existence.

Duke went on to back a number of Jazz legends such as Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, and Dexter Gordon. He also played keys for Frank Zappa’s innovative group The Mothers Of Invention, and worked with a wide range of artists, including Christian McBride, Michael JacksonMiles Davis, Gladys Knight, Anita Baker, Smokey Robinson, and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Duke’s solo career saw him record more than 30 albums, and serve as a composer and producer for a laundry-list of albums and special projects/events.

Duke is survived by his sons, Rasheed and John.

Watch George Duke perform at the 2010 Java Jazz Fest below:

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