The amazing keyboardist/vocalist/producer George Duke, who passed away yesterday, was one of my favorite musicians. He was and will always be well and truly loved by listeners and fellow musicians alike, and his lessons and examples of inclusion will always be relevant and inspiring. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I learned that he’d released a new album, DreamWeaver, and that there was a video of him discussing the new album. That got me to remembering when I first met him: on the set of the SUNDAY NIGHT television show, which ran from 1988 to 1990… and I began drafting this post then. So the news is extra sobering.
SUNDAY NIGHT was unique in its simple premise: artists from different musical genres would be booked to perform in unusual combinations on the show. No categories: just musicians performing together. How cool a concept is that? So it was a huge thrill when my JazzTimes editor W. Royal Stokes asked me to write an article about the show, because that meant full access to all the tapings, which took place in New York City. Yes people, I was in HEAVEN, seeing and hearing artists like Curtis Mayfield, Robert Cray, Earth, Wind & Fire (Philip Bailey kissed me on the cheek!), David Sanborn, Youssou N’Dour, Santana, Betty Carter (I sat next to her in the studio cafeteria!), Branford Marsalis, and many more.
For the first several shows, George Duke was the musical director. When I interviewed him backstage I was so giddy, both from being in that setting and from being in his presence, that I’m sure I was not professional at all! But he was gracious and friendly and full of delight about being on the show, and working with the musicians, and the honesty of the music they made. His comment captured it perfectly: “People have told me that they watched the show and couldn’t believe that they were actually seeing these odd combinations of musicians playing and singing live. That’s the thing that’s so unique about this show–you get this incredible group of jazz musicians, rock musicians, musicians from different backgrounds, people who never worked together, coming together to make some music. And that’s what it’s all about in the final analysis anyway.”
My article is reproduced below for your reading pleasure, together with images of some of my personal mementos from the show (click on images to view the slideshow). Although some of the artists who appeared are no longer with us, I’m glad that I got to hug them–and that their music lives on in my collection and in my heart!
How will you remember your favorite music / musicians today?