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George Duke Covers Influential Standards on Latest Album


After all these years, has jazzman George Duke finally mellowed out? We get the answer from VOA's Doug Levine who samples Duke's latest album, In A Mellow Tone.

Considered a pioneer of '70s jazz-fusion, George Duke, 60, takes aim at the great American songbook, and at what he calls "eloquently stated melodies that will stand the test of time."

Frank Loesser's "Never Will I Marry" is one. Rogers and Hart's "Spring Is Here" is another.

George Duke has come full circle. Growing up in Northern California, he developed a fondness for jazz after seeing a concert by The Duke Ellington Orchestra. He decided right then and there that he wanted a piano, and by age seven, he was already hard at work studying the masters.

Duke had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He landed a spot with a jazz trio while attending the San Francisco Conservatory. Soon after, he toured with singer Al Jarreau, followed by stints on electric piano with Jean-Luc Ponty, Cannonball Adderly, and Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention. It was Zappa who first encouraged Duke to sing and play synthesizers.

George Duke sings Duke Ellington, the title song from his latest album, "In A Mellow Tone."

Having been a session player and a solo recording artist, there was only one thing left for Duke to do, which was to produce. During the late '70s and 1980s, he divided his time between his own projects and producing albums for some of the biggest names in R&B, including Anita Baker and Jeffrey Osborne.

Sure, George Duke has mellowed. Who can blame him for wanting to trace his roots back to the tried and true melody, back to the great jazz standards, and even leave some room for an original song or two, such as "Quiet Fire," featuring Brian Bromberg on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums.