CM George in 1977, I went to
university in the UK and I had a real good record store called Mothership
Records nearby. I was big into Parliament-Funkadelic. One day I went in
there and “Reach for It” was pumping out. I’ve been a fan ever since –
this is a real pleasure for me.
George, I don’t want dissect the songs on the new CD but when I listened
to them I sort of grouped them according to some characteristics they had
and some questions just naturally dropped out of that – are you happy for
us to go like that?
GD Sure let’s do that.
CM Well, I had some warning, if you can call it that, that the CD
was going to be funky – and it certainly is that! The title track is deep
funk, with phat bass, chants and Parliament-style horns. Did you miss
making music like this?
GD I’ve not missed it in as much as I play a funkier style of music
live. My recorded music over the last few years has been less funky.
CM Something like “Muir Woods Suite” is very different from the new
GD Yes, it’s good for a musician to go beyond category – style is
irrelevant. I like to think of it as Duke Ellington put it: “there’s two
types of music – good and bad”. I love straight-ahead jazz as much as I
love funk, classical and Brazilian music. I wear different hats every day.
I love to eat spaghetti, but I wouldn’t want to eat it every day.
CM Oh, I don’t know…
GD To me, it seems that diversity is the key to longevity.
CM I’m going to quote you on that!
Now, on “Listen Baby” and “Right on Time” your vocals sound great, unique
and very soulful. Do you do lots of vocals on tour?
GD I do enough, yes. R&B fans embrace the falsetto singing, the
Curtis Mayfield or Stylistics-type vocal. So I like to do that, though
singing falsetto gets a little harder as you get older.
CM There’s a real Isley Brothers thing going on in “Right on Time”.
GD There is a strong following for ballads like this, influenced by
Marvin Gaye, Ronnie Isley with a jazzy kind of slant to them. Radio in the
USA has an appetite for this type of sound.
CM I’d say radio in the UK would have that sort of appetite too,
not mainstream radio maybe but a lot of internet stations.
GD I hope that’s true…
CM I know that you spend as much time producing vocalists as
anything. Could you give us a run-down of the vocalists that you worked
with just this year?
GD I’ve worked with my cousin Dianne Reeves, with Ledisi and with
Howard Hewett – I actually wrote some Christmas songs with him. I’ve also
been working with the Russian singer, Larisa Dolina and I’ve so far
produced five out of ten tracks for a singer from Cameroon called Grace
Decca. I’ve gone international this year (laughs).
CM Yes, I read about her on your website…
You know I talked about the horns on the title track of the new CD? Well,
the horns really grabbed me on “Everyday Heroes”, “Mercy” and “Are you
Now I know you’ve been working with Tower of Power this year. Could you
tell us a little about that?
GD Wow, I forgot Tower of Power! Their album is just finished. It
should come out very early in the New Year. We’ve got Joss Stone on vocals
– she’s the real deal!
CM I don’t know if you caught it, but about three years ago she was
on a talk show in the UK and James Brown was on the same show. They did a
duet at the end and Joss held her own.
GD I bet she did. This album has a real 60’s and 70’s feel, but
using all the studio techniques that are available now. It was a lot of
CM You know, “Are You Ready” has a big Earth, Wind & Fire vibe. The
first time I heard it, I thought “hey that’s ‘September’, er, no it’s
not”. You’re a big admirer of them I think…
GD Oh yes, I’ve always loved their music, they are good friends of
mine. I’ve seen them play live and they had me in tears.
CM I’ve seen them in the UK and when their music reaches its most
intense, it makes the hairs on your neck stand up. I’ve read that you
admire them for producing quality music but remaining accessible.
GD For sure, Earth, Wind & Fire are universally popular – with
black, white and latino audiences, everybody. Young acts could learn a lot
from them, about how to keep the integrity in your music and give out a
message but still be commercial.
CM George, I think you must have read my notes! I was going to ask
you about “Somebody Laid it on Us” and “Sudan” – these are real message
GD I think artists have a responsibility to talk about the issues
of the day. Music can’t be just “I love you, you love me”. I’m not trying
to make a political point – I just approached “Sudan” as a human tragedy.
CM I love the last track on the CD, “Images of Us”, on its own
terms but it seems like one in the eye for those who say “George doesn’t
play jazz any more”. It’s very adventurous.
GD It’s a long song which is a vehicle for developing ideas and
stretching out over an extended period. I’ve got my touring band on that
CM Is Ron Bruner in your touring band??
GD Yeah, he has been for about 3 years. Stanley Clarke introduced
me to him. He’s 25 now and it’s great to have his energy. We have a
variety of drummers on this record, Vinnie Colaiuta, Ndugu and a really
solid drummer called Teddy Campbell.
CM I had the great pleasure of speaking with Stanley Clarke
recently he described Ron as guy who can hang. Are there any other young
players you can tell us about?
GD Oh yes! Kamasi Washington plays sax on “Mercy”. He can play the
jazz thing but from a funk angle.
CM I just got finished reviewing the album by Stanley Clarke,
Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten. I know you played on there – there is
serious funk on that record. I’ve read on your website your thoughts about
how the heart’s going out of some jazz. Where did all this funk come from
GD It never left me. People kept saying to me “why don’t you make
an album like you used to make?” I backed off from making a full album of
funk, because I like that balance, so it’s old-school. It’s new material,
with an old vibe.
CM It seems like 2008 has been a year for reunions – you’ve been
working with Al Jarreau and you’ve been recording with Byron Miller, Ndugu
and Sheila E and other guys who played on “Reach For It” among others.
You’ve got even Napoleon Murphy Brock from Frank Zappa’s band on the new
When I spoke with Stanley Clarke, I asked about a Clarke-Duke Project 4,
especially as you’re label mates now, and he feels like it’s overdue…
GD Well, Stanley has been reunited with Return to Forever this
year. With both our schedules, a Clarke-Duke Project 4 could be several
years down the line but as we’re both part of Heads Up, it could happen.
CM Right - I know you have more touring and Dave Koz’s Jazz Cruise
in November. Is there anything else for the end of the year or beginning
of next year that you want to tell us about?
GD Some of my October dates in the US got moved due to the
election, so those dates are moved to November which means a trip to
Europe will move. I don’t want to be touring in Europe in December so I’ll
probably visit Asia, maybe Japan in late November and then come to Europe
in the spring. I’m kind of juggling.
CM I might have read somewhere that you’re interested in a big band
GD I would love that. George Duke songs played by a big band. I’ve
wanted to do that for a long time.
CM Well, Maceo Parker did it with a big band from Cologne and it
sounded great. I think he had a ball!
GD Maceo!! I should check that out.
CM Yes, it’s called “Roots and Grooves”.
GD So yes, I’m still thinking about this record but big band may be
next – or maybe Brazilian music would take over. I’d like to do a fusion
album too, not a far-out one but the kind of thing I used to do with Billy
CM The last song on this CD kind of ‘promises’ that – a taste of
things to come.
GD Yes it does. I probably won’t do a funk album unless this one
sells about 3 million copies (laughs).
CM George, I only have a couple of questions left. Is there anyone
who you haven’t produced yet that you’d really like to work with?
GD I’d have had a great answer for this once upon a time. Now I’d
really just like to work with a young group that pushes the envelope. Not
people who are different just for the sake of being different, but
innovators who build on what’s gone before.
CM Well, my last question is a silly one – but I’m going to ask it
GD Go ahead.
CM Where can I buy those “Dukey Treats” chocolates?
GD (Laughing) my wife bought those online, the musical notes and
stuff. You know the film where they say “life’s like a box of chocolates”?
CM ..”You never know what you’re gonna get”
GD That’s what I wanted the album to be like.
CM George – we’re out of time, so on my own behalf and on behalf of
the website visitors I’d like to thank you for speaking to me today and
wish you every success with the CD, the tour and all the projects that
take you to the end of this year and beyond.
GD Thank you.