Respected jazz figure whose versatility made him a sought-after collaborator

George Duke - Born: January 12th, 1946; died: August 5th, 2013

George Duke, who has died aged 67, began his career in the 1960s as a jazz pianist but made his name by crossing musical boundaries.

The name of the instrument with which Duke is most closely associated also describes his approach to music: synthesiser. While he remained a respected figure in the jazz world, over the years he also played keyboards with Frank Zappa and Michael Jackson, sang lead on a top 20 single and produced pop and rhythm and blues hits for others.

His work has been sampled by hip-hop and electronic artists, including Daft Punk. "I was in a rock band, I played with a bunch of Brazilians, I played R&B with Parliament-Funkadelic and all of that," he said in a recent interview. "I mean, I've done jazz with Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley. It's a goulash. It's a gumbo."

Duke, who as a small boy begged his mother to buy him a piano after she took him to see Duke Ellington, began playing professionally at a time when many musicians were interested in blending genres. He played in a trio that backed the singer Al Jarreau while he was still a teenager, then accompanied Dizzy Gillespie and other jazz musicians at clubs in San Francisco. By the early 1970s he had performed and recorded with Adderley, the jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and Zappa's Mothers of Invention.


Urged by Zappa, he experimented with a few types of synthesisers before settling on the ARP Odyssey. Duke's versatility made him a sought-after collaborator. Working in Rio de Janeiro in 1979, he recorded one of his best-known albums, A Brazilian Love Affair.

Duke was born in San Rafael, near San Francisco and grew up listening to gospel music in the Baptist church his family attended. He graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1967.

He is survived by two sons, John and Rashid.