George Duke: Up Close and Personal
The mid-seventies were a busy time for master keyboardist and jazz/rock icon George Duke. The projects he involved himself in that were the most visible at that time were his many recordings and tours with Frank Zappa, and his own band with drummer extraordinaire Billy Cobham.
I had seen both Duke and Cobham perform live, but separately – George with Zappa and Billy with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Both were simply incredible musicians and spellbinding to watch.
Phoenix, Arizona was still a relatively small city back then so if there was a show in town, chances are you probably knew about it. One night when George Duke and Billy Cobham were scheduled to perform a concert in Phoenix, I found myself riding around town with my good friend Lloyd who was a jazz bass student at Arizona State University. Neither one of us had a ticket to the Duke concert nor the money to purchase one.
Thinking about it now I can’t remember if Lloyd had heard a rumor at school or if it was just a hunch, but he suggested we stop in to a little restaurant downtown called El Torrito that featured live jazz where a well known local drummer named Pete Magadini was playing. Pete was a renowned authority on polyrhythms and knew some of the cats on the national jazz scene. Speculation was that some special guests might be stopping by that evening.
Lloyd and I walked right in and grabbed a table about twenty feet from center stage. With obligatory drinks ordered, we settled in just in time to see the Magadini band finish a set. They came off stage and gathered together to begin their break when all of a sudden in to the room strolled George Duke, Billy Cobham, and bassist Alphonso Johnson, straight from their just ended concert! They obviously knew Pete Magadini as they were greeted with hugs, handshakes and smiles. Then, with pleasantries exchanged and refreshment’s obtained – and much to our delight – the Magadini band members proceeded to escort Duke, Cobham, and Johnson up to the stage to familiarize them with the setup.
In one of the most prolific musical experiences of my entire lifetime, with nothing between us and the stage but the carpet on the floor, the George Duke/Billy Cobham Band launched into a full hour long set while Lloyd and I sat mesmerized at what we were seeing and hearing.
George Duke was a wonderfully creative and tasteful jazz musician who contributed much to the world of music as a composer, session player, producer, and educator. He left this world on August 5th, 2013, a world he almost seemed to transcend on that special night at the little El Torrito restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona.
George Duke will be missed, but that night will never, be forgotten.
Dan King’s blog is www.PurpleAZ.com
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