Friday, October 1, 2010

NEWS: George Duke and Al Jarreau Are on the Road Again

The Hague Jazz 2009 - George DukeImage by Haags Uitburo via FlickrBy Emily Cary

George Duke and Al Jarreau have been friends for many years since Jarreau began singing in a little club in San Francisco where Duke's Trio played. Now they have joined forces for a tour that is taking them cross country to venues great and small for evenings to savor and remember.

Their careers have gone in different directions over the years, but now that they have become what Duke politely dubs "old fellows," it seemed a good time to get together again. They first rehearsed this show in February to perform it in Seattle before Duke left for Europe. Each time they reunited during the spring, they tweaked it a little, but it remains basically the same two-for-one admission blast with each doing his own thing.

Both have staying power and audience rapport, so news of their touring together to the end of the year delights fans. Cognizant of the subtle changes in the music business over the past decade, they have wisely gone back to doing what they were doing in the beginning by playing for live audiences everywhere.

Early in August, Duke's latest CD, "Déjà Vu," was released. The title number is the clue that it's a retrospective of the music he's done in the past. Most of it is instrumental, a veritable treat for the ears that incorporates old synthesizers he took out of his locker and dusted off. Although we think of Duke as one of the greatest keyboardists ever, he plays drums on "What Goes Around Comes Around," but he is quick to clarify that they are computer drums difficult to distinguish from real drums.

He worked to make certain it came out exactly as he wanted. All the numbers are styles he's loved from the past, and since he was eager to finish it before taking off on a six-week round of European jazz festivals, he had all the more impetus to get it out. Listeners immediately discover that the old analog sounds give a very different feeling. At the same time, he contrasted the old technology with new devices which are a little more on the left side musically. The resulting daring moments are stretched beyond what we typically hear today when so many musicians have grown conservative.

Over the years, Duke has worked with the likes of Frank Zappa, Cannonball Adderley, Stanley Clarke and Miles Davis. Ray Charles was equally instrumental in his development. While Charles was initially influenced by church music, he turned it into secular styles that captured Duke's imagination. The beauty and variety of music created by these diverse artists has enriched Duke's own output and interest in the evolution of jazz. In keeping with his desire to help young musicians along the way, he participates as a judge each October at the Thelonius Monk competition in Washington, DC where the stars of tomorrow invariably are tapped.

Duke has one of the most outgoing personalities in the business. He loves to laugh, loves what he does for people, and regards the smiles on all the faces before him as a blessing. He is happiest when he feels he has drawn a new audience into an experience they can share together.

"It's not just me performing for them," he says. "I want their involvement and for them to have a good time. When Al and I are on stage together, we go to different musical planets, he to his own galaxy, and the Trio to ours, all part of a beautiful, big picture."

Emily Cary is a prize-winning teacher and novelist whose articles about entertainers appear regularly in the DC Examiner. She is a genealogist, an avid traveler, and a researcher who incorporates landscapes, cultures and the power of music in her books and articles.

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