Performance Memories – George Duke

Jazz keyboardist George Duke passed away on August 5, at the age of 67.

One of my favorite concert memories of all time was seeing the Clarke-Duke Project at the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium in 1981. I was a junior in college, and had just started working part-time in radio. “Sweet Baby” from the Clarke-Duke Project was the lead single, and a minor hit. 

I vividly remember the obvious joy in playing that both Stanley Clarke and George Duke demonstrated through the entire show. Damn, they looked like they were having fun!

The video below captures a little bit of what I remember, although the small confines of the TV studio where this performance takes place did not allow Stanley Clarke to leap and bound from one end of the stage to the other, in one of the most acrobatic music performances I have ever seen. Duke, with his “key-tar” slung over one shoulder, matched him move for move

If there was a square foot of the Hancher stage he didn’t touch, it was because there was a drum set or guitar amp there already. 

The Clarke-Duke Project LP also included a fun version of “Louie, Louie;” (video link also below) that is still a favorite of mine. This marked the first time I was every able to decipher the words to this mumbled Kingsmen classic, which included a smart lyric addition by Duke:

The moral of this story is

When you sail the Seven Seas,

Take your woman with you

And set your mind at ease!  

The concert ended with Clarke and Duke jamming on the tune, pulling audience members up and giving them the chance to sing.  

No one knew the actual words to “Louie, Louie”, of course, which provided some entertaining moments at the the show I saw, and I’m sure much hilarity during the tour. 

Ironically,  the friend I attended with, a jazz reed player, did not care for the concert. She said it was “too pop.”  I countered that it was hard to tell two people who were obviously having the time of their lives that they were doing it wrong.

I hear that today from time to time, that jazz is “serious” music, and that if the music is too pop or accessible or fun, that it’s not true to the genre.

I don’t agree, and I think mssrs. Clarke and Duke would agree with me.

Rest in peace, Mr. Duke. I hope that wherever you are now, you are smiling as widely as you were when I last saw you.




1 Comment

  1. I just looked at my old ticket stub and found that I saw Clarke / Duke on June 28, 1981 in Austin, TX. I’d read that George had been having difficulty dealing with the death of his wife but recently released a new CD. I own 9 Duke solo LP’s/CD’s and individual MP3 tracks from several other albums as well as the first Clarke/Duke Project LP. The important thing about pop-ish jazz releases is they are a gateway to more serious jazz, which can also be fun. Good music is good music, and George Duke put out some good music.

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