Remembering George Duke–and the “Sunday Night” Show

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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?

Sunday Night page 2

“Sunday Night” article (page 2)
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Sunday Night page 1

My “Sunday Night” article (page 1)
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The Tale of the Ticket Stubs

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I save all my ticket stubs, dear reader. But don’t act surprised. You already know I’m sentimental.

One day, my artist friend Richard was visiting. Whenever he visits, it turns into an art project, which is great because I’m not artistically inclined and I enjoy getting that push. Looking around the house for something he could inspire, I remembered that little box I keep all the ticket stubs in.

“So… how do you think I can display these?” I asked, handing him the box. In my head I envisioned a huge, custom-made wall piece.

But Richard used to be a Boy Scout. And Boy Scouts know how to do much with little. After a couple of minutes thinking, he looked down at my glass-topped coffee table. “Why not mount them on that?”

Immediately that struck me as a great idea. But… how? What special glue would be needed? And what special place would it need to be ordered from?

“Ordinary Scotch tape,” he said. HUH? But I know better than to question Richard. He da man.

So, after carefully curating the stubs, we folded bits of tape to the back of each one and just laid them down on the table. Randomly, yet artistically.

When we’d finished and stood back to admire our work, another question arose: how to protect the installation? What specially custom-cut piece of glass or Lucite would be needed? And what special place would it need to be ordered from?

“Do you have a piece of clear plastic?” he asked. HUH? But i know better than to question Richard. I thought about it.

And then it hit me: (BAM!) I have a clear plastic shower curtain, brand new in the package, that I could use. But… how to affix it?

“Ordinary Scotch tape,” he said.

Et voilà! The result became a popular conversation piece… and more importantly, an instant trip down memory lane. (see slideshow below.)

The moral of the story? Always keep an artist in your life to help you to see… and hear.

Do you have an artist in your life? How does this enhance the everyday ordinary-ness?

Aerial view of the stubbed-out coffee table

Aerial view of the stubbed-out coffee table

Occasionally I did buy my own tickets, like the one to my first Rick James concert! He'd just gotten out of the uh, joint.

Occasionally I bought my own tickets, like the one to my first Rick James concert after he’d just gotten out of the uh, joint.

 

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Every year I covered the JVC Jazz Festival... which meant lots of free tickets (and excellent seats!) to lots of great concerts.

Every year I covered the JVC Jazz Festival… which meant lots of free tickets (and excellent seats!) to lots of great concerts.

 

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(R): Ticket from a NIGHT MUSIC (renamed SUNDAY NIGHT) taping--a TV show that mixed musicians in unique ways. I wrote a cover story for JazzTimes, so got to be at many tapings!

(R): Ticket from a NIGHT MUSIC (renamed SUNDAY NIGHT) taping–a TV show that mixed musicians in unique ways. I wrote a cover story for JazzTimes, so got to be at many tapings!