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George Duke, jazz/funk keyboardist who collaborated with Frank Zappa, Michael Jackson and Miles Davis, dead at 67

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George Duke
Master musician bridged genres of jazz, R&B, funk and Brazilian music; Was sampled by likes of Daft Punk and Kanye West.

George Duke, the master keyboardist who bridged the worlds of jazz, R&B, funk, and Brazilian music, died Monday at St John’s Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 67.

No cause was given.

Duke’s passing comes just over a year after the death of his wife, Corine, from cancer last July. The keyboardist dedicated his just-released album, DreamWeaver, to her memory.

In a career that spanned more than 40 years, Duke worked with stars including Michael Jackson, on 1979’s The Wall, Miles Davis, producing and composing tracks on several key albums of the ‘80s, and Frank Zappa, with whom he appeared on Mothers of Invention albums from 1970 through the early ‘90s.

Duke, who was born in San Rafael, Calif., studied trombone, contrabass and composition at the San Francisco Conservatory, where he graduated in 1967. But his made his name expressing himself on a wide variety of keyboards, from acoustic piano to clavinet to all manner of synthesizers. He became a key player in the development of jazz-fusion in the late ‘60s, particularly after collaborating with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. The release of their joint album, “The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with The George Duke Trio,” cemented his reputation in 1969.

Duke veered into the avant-garde through his work with Zappa, which began with 1970’s “Chunga’s Revenge.” He also appeared in the Zappa movie “200 Motels” in 1971 and played on important Mothers’ albums like “Over-Nite Sensation” and “Apostrophe.”

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