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George Duke, RIP

by Seth Colter Walls

George Duke, RIP

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Simply appearing on Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall," Shuggie Otis' "Sweet Thang," and several key experimental Frank Zappa records would be a pretty great career. But that's just the tip of the legacy left behind by genre-spanning, innovative keyboardist George Duke, who died this week at the age of 67.

He cut his teeth as a jazzer. But because Duke showed he could master pop textures ranging from hard rock (see "Rokkinrowl I Don't Know") to disco pop ("Shine On") and on to harder-edged funk, he was the keyboardist of choice for jazz artists looking to move into fusion, like Sonny Rollins and Cannonball Adderley. And Duke and bassist Stanley Clarke formed a duo that notched its own pop successes in the '80s ("Sweet Baby"). All told, Duke's work inspired legions of dance and R&B artists. (Daft Punk even sampled "I Love You More" on the track "Digital Love.")

Duke was still crossing boundaries in 2013: His final studio album, DreamWeaver, features both admirable R&B productions ("Trippin'") and venturesome jam sessions ("Burnt Sausage Jam"). No compilation on the market takes in the full diversity of Duke's many talents -- he appeared on way too many labels for that to be possible -- so listen to the appended playlist for a nearly two-hour shot of his brilliance.

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