Reality has finally set in.
George is gone and although I will be reliving a lifetime of memories during my all out Vinyl and CD “Duke-A-Thon,” the fact remains that I am now forced to mention him in the past tense.
I called several people and several others called me, just to check on each other and to see, if possibly, we were overreacting in our emotions – but we are sincerely grieving. Mourning as if we’ve lost a close member of our own family, praying for his and wondering how Stanley Clarke is holding up. Thoughts. Tears. Silence. Disbelief. Music.
This post is not meant to be morbid. But it will be deep. You may not understand, unless you experienced your first honest to goodness wet kiss as a 14 year old male, while squeaking your awful falsetto to “Say That You Will” or experiencing near paranoia and looking over your shoulder every other minute hoping Craig’s big brother Marty wouldn’t catch the two of you in his record collection, putting adolescent finger prints all over “The Aura Will Prevail” for the 50th time. Chris remembers being locked in my bedroom for hours on end studying every single measure, note, beat and rhythm of “Reach For It,” “Don’t Let Go” & “Follow The Rainbow” – lifting the needle over and over again to dissect our favorite parts. Why, I can recall my own uncle doing the same thing to “I Love The Blues, She Heard My Cry” while I watched as a small nine year old (which is what I’m listening to as I write this.) Deep Indeed!
I simply cannot overstate the importance Duke and his music has played in my life. From my earliest recollections, to some of my most important experiences, like blasting his music in my first car to high school graduation to getting married and introducing my daughters to ‘the truth’, George’s groove has always been somewhere in the background. God granted me the unexpected opportunity to speak with him this past June via a radio interview as I was preparing the Youngstown Jazz Fest. The hosts were gracious enough to allow me several minutes with the icon. If I’d known this would be one of his last interviews, I would have asked 1000 more questions.
I feel for Trish, who was scheduled to interview George on Tuesday, but had to post his transition on her Facebook page instead.
I can’t remember how many actual times I have seen the Duke live, but all were too few and infrequent. One instance in particular stood out. 16 Years Old. Front Row Theatre, Cleveland Ohio. The Duke/Clarke Project!! I was sure I was supposed to be breathing, but all of the excitement prohibited me. Chris & Craig were there too. Marty brought us! They couldn’t breathe either. Our heroes were holding court and the Funk STANK!!! Then all of a sudden, toward the end of the show, they opened up the stage and let members of the audience jam on their instruments!!! For REAL??? We each chickened out. However, one dude ripped Duke’s piano apart – absolute blazing! Year’s later, my brother-n-law, Phil The Beat & I saw Stanley at Peabody’s in Cleveland (circa 2005) and guess who his keyboardist was?? Yup Same dude! Clarke recounted the story. I cried joyfully. Dreams Do Come True!
When You Think George Duke, You Immediately Think The Funkiest Funk, The Jazziest Jazz, The Classiest Classical, The Most Soulful Soul, Most Fused Out Fusion, Completely Serious Silliness, Profound Lyrics and Absolutely Everything in Between!
His Music sticks to your ribs like grits. You can’t soon shake his approach. Happy, Joyful, Sublime. You don’t want to disrespect women or shoot anyone after a George Duke album. In fact, I was more apt to want to cut Mrs. McDonald’s grass while listening (as long as the batteries in my Walkman held out). Feel REALLY Good Music!!
And his astounding output! – 30 plus solo albums??? Not to mention the duos! (Duke & Cobham, anyone?!?)
And well before Jam & Lewis, LA & Babyface and other ‘production teams’ laid claim to the industry, George had already produced EVERYBODY!! The Soul Train Awards Music Director, Scoring Soundtracks, composing the Muir Woods Suite! His body of work looms larger and more prominent than his contemporaries, many of which have stopped recording (with the obvious exception of Herbie & Chick – who’s new album is just out).
That ever bending “Waop” of his ultra funky synth immediately defined moments. Time stood still. His homage to snappy, finger plucking bassists, from Byron to Christian to Marcus to Kimpel and his stalwart Stanley is legendary – the only way to mellow you out is to turn to his silky piano for a song or two and it’s back to the mayhem of twisting time signatures and tactfully terrorizing drum solos!! We have been touched with genius.
The Lessons I have learned from Uncle George’s spirit in the few 48 years I have been on the planet will be further explained in my next post as I continue to pursue this calling of music, but I will sum it up here:
Leaving a Lifetime Legacy
I’m still listening & learning.
Tell Your favorite George Duke Story or List Your Favorite Album here. Let’s Celebrate His Life.