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DEDICATED IN MEMORY OF GEORGE DUKE
Interview by Bridgid Brousseau
That is the happiest conversation where there is no competition, no vanity, but a calm quiet interchange of sentiments. ~Samuel Johnson~
GD: I really feel that we as artists are really “Dreamweavers." We take on a blank canvas. We take just sonic threads and weave something out of that because essentially the canvas is blank. We can paint on it. We can thread some interesting yarn through it and see what we come up with. I think that’s what we do. We pull from what’s in the natural world to that what’s in the spiritual world and hopefully bring that together in a greater understanding.
GD: I don’t want to get to cosmic with this but essentially I wanted “Dreamweaver” to start from nothing, which is a sound and from that it just kept building and no one quite knew what was going to happen. It was “audio soup.” It just kept building from that.
There is a song that’s called “Change the World” that was not meant to be on here. But it has so many of my great comrades and friends like Jeffrey Osborne, Freddie Jackson, BeBe Winans, Laurie Perry and Lalah Hathaway. I just want to mention, although this is a pipe dream of a song in terms of being able to change the world I think artists need to be positive and keep the messages out front and don’t be afraid to say what needs to be changed in the world. If we really got together, which we won’t, we could make a difference.
Bridgid: How does it feel to be George Duke?
GD: Totally blessed to be able to work with the talent that I have worked with. Because most of these acts that I have worked with except for a few have very strong musical identities. That’s what I like to work with.
Bridgid: What attracts you musically to an artist that would spur you to want to work with them?
GD: I don’t generally like to work with someone where I have to insert my identity into what they do. I prefer to work with someone who already has something raw, that has just not been developed or they’re looking for another way of doing something and I can bring what I know to the table and we come up with a “new fresh baby,” I call it an interracial musical explosion! How about that for some words?
I give artists the maximum leeway to create music. I just wish today there was more music in it. I think the biggest problem is I don’t hear a lot of melody, I just hear a lot of rhythm and for me that doesn’t hold well for the future. Thirty years down the line what are you going to remember? Are you going to remember a beat? That’s kind of rough for me.
Bridgid: How does it feel to be back at the 2013th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival?
GD: It’s a wonderful thing. I’m happy that they chose me to do it. Especially, with my good dear friend, talented Jeffrey Osborne. And they don’t give us enough time to do what we might normally do but it is what it is.
Bridgid: How did the collaboration with Jeffrey Osborne come to be?
GD: I produced three or four records for him, award winning Gold Platinum Records back in the day. I just finished a new album for him called “A Time for Love,” you need to check out because it’s a standards record. It’s very different for Jeffrey. It’s the first time that he has attacked these kinds of songs he did it with just applaud. He treated every song with respect. He only sang songs he really loved. Jeffrey and I have a long history. He’s one of my favorite artists to work with. He’ll be doing his hits. He can “woo, woo” for 35 minutes. I said you better cut it down to five!
Bridgid: Our condolences on the passing of your wife. How do you fill that void?
GD: I don’t know that it’s a void that can be filled. Maybe it’s too soon. It took me a long time to even go into the studio to begin this record as a result of that. Because she passed on July 18, this record is being released on July 16. That’s kind of ironic in itself. But by the time I actually got into the studio and got my mind focused on what I wanted to do and actually focused several songs basically on her. For example, “Missing You,” I specifically wrote, specifically to her that I could not come in here and sing. It was too emotional.
GD: I changed the lyric to be more generic to any woman but I know who it is. Three of my favorite people passed. Jeff Lee Johnson, guitar, Tina Marie and my wife. So I decided I’m dedicating this album to my wife, Jeff Lee Johnson and Tina Marie. Not because I worked a lot with Tina but the last year that we worked together was very intense. She wanted to do a Jazz album, she wanted to do it outside of a record label, she didn’t want to be influenced by any what A&R guy or by what anyone else had to say. She wanted to make the music she wanted to make. It was from the heart. For whatever reason we did this track called “Ball & Chain,” and she came in, sang it, and two days later she was done. I said “you can come out.” It was just supposed to be a demo vocal but she doesn’t do demo vocals. She goes for it! She went for it and got it. I said this track is great.
GD: Now when they decided to release the record on another label, I said “you know I’ve got this track sitting here.” They didn’t want it. I said “wow.” I said it’s done, finished! They said “that’s ok.” Maybe the word jazz scared them. I don’t know because it’s not really a jazzy jazz cut. So I called her daughter Alia Rose and told her I had this track. I said “I want to put it on my album as a tribute to Tina.” She said “go right ahead.”
Bridgid: Tell us about “Happy Trails.”
GD: I’m pretty sure that this is one of the last recordings that Jeff Lee Johnson ever made that we did called “Happy Trails,” which is kind of deep because every time one of the singers would come in I’d say “I want to cut this track “Happy Trails.” They’d say “Happy Trails?” “Do you mean Dale Evans, Roy Rogers “Happy Trails?” They said “you’re out of your mind!” I said “No, I’m not!” We did it. It worked. Jeff Lee is featured on it and I thought it was the prefect way to end the record. Just him by himself actually sitting in this little room by himself, on the floor playing.
Bridgid: Everyone has a bucket list. Given all of your accomplishments what is on your bucket list, musical or otherwise?
GD: There are a few things I want to get to before I check out hopefully. One is I would really, really, like to do a big band record. I mean a George Duke big band record. But I want to do it my way, which is a little different than come might consider. The second thing is, I have in the back of my mind. I want to go back to Brazil and do a Brazilian Love CARE 2”?? The second thing is I’d like to do something really ethnic which is bring what I think about music to a particular culture.
GD: Whether it’s India, Africa, somewhere I can work with indigenous musicians who may not know an “a” from a “b” flat but they feel the call to make music and they make music the way they do. I would like to put my ideas and their ideas together and see what we can come up with. That would be really interesting to me.
Bridgid: You look great! You’ve lost a lot a weight. What’s your secret?
GD: Yes, I’m continuing and I have a goal. Hopefully, I will get there. Yeah, I’m a “Pastafarian!” I am. They used to call me a “Pastafarian.” I love some pasta. That’s my problem.
Bridgid: Did you always know you wanted to be a musician?
GD: My mom didn’t say “I want you to play the piano.” My mom basically exposed me to what was out there. She took me to art shows, drama I want you to be involved in the Arts and see if there’s anything that sticks. The one thing that stuck was seeing Duke Ellington at 4 ½ years old. Maybe it was because his last name was “Duke.”
GD: All I know is that he was doing something that was like magic to me. He spoke the Kings English but at the same time he sounded like the brothers on the street. I thought this is an interesting dichotomy of a person. I said “ I don’t know what’s going on here but whatever it is I want to be a part of it.”
GD: He was doing something with his hands which I later found out he was playing the piano. Every time he lifted his hands up the other guys on the stage would begin to play. He was conducting but I was like “whoah!” “These other guys started playing!” People were having fun so I told my mom I wanted to do that. I knew instantly that this is what I wanted to do. I didn’t know I could make a living. I was never sure of that until many years later. I knew that’s what I wanted to do as a profession. That was my life’s calling.
Bridgid: Where does the title "Dreamweaver come from?
GD: It was a couple of nights on this cruise, the Soultrain Cruise which is kind of interesting because I have a long association with Don Cornelious. It was late enough, 4 or 5 in the morning and the sun was coming up. I was going to go out on the deck, it was warm and I was in my shorts. All of a sudden the sun came up and ideas started flowing. I went and grabbed a pen and started writing. Three of the songs are on “Dreamweaver.” One is called “Missing You,’ which we were just speaking about, one called “You Never Know,” which was just contemplative about what life is about. You never know what it’s going to bring. I didn’t have a melody together but the entire gist came that morning.
Bridgid: What is the inspiration behind “Burnt Sausage” with Christian McBride
GD: Chris is like my son. I love him to death. The track that we did was not written for this album. It was something that came from 2002 when I did my first album on my label and we just did a jam. We played for about 40 minutes until we got tired. I used the first part on a record called “Face the Music,’ which is about ten minutes long. I made this a 15 minute extravaganza that I orchestrated from a jam session. That’s how Christian wound up on this record. He didn’t even know it until a couple of weeks ago.
GD: I pledge allegiance to smooth jazz of the United States of America and to the music which it represents one nation under jazz indivisible with justice and liberty for all people that love good music.
Bridgid: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
PLAYBOY JAZZ FESTIVAL
CELEBRATING THE LIFE OF GEORGE DUKE
Al Jarrea, Stanley Clarke, Byron Miller, Paul Jackson, Greg Philinganes, Lil John Roberts, Josie James and John Beasely celebrate the life of composer, producer, and musician George Duke.
Woodshed Jazz Magazine
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