Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Loss of Two Giants

Here is a post I did yesterday for the SFJAZZ Blog, and I thought I would also share it on this site. Enjoy!

This month has turned into a heart-breaking time for the jazz community, as we've sadly lost two greats over a span of a few weeks, with first the passing of George Duke earlier in the month, and most recently Cedar Walton, who died early yesterday morning at the age of 79. Even though the two were vastly different in their style and approach, both left a tremendous footprint in jazz.

After getting his start with Don Ellis and Jean-Luc Ponty in the sixties, George Duke went on to make a name for himself as a leader in the seventies with a number of well-respected fusion recordings including 1970's Save the Country, 1974's Faces in Reflection and 1975's The Aura Will Prevail, as well as his collaborative efforts with other notable musicians like drummer Billy Cobham, saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, Brazilian percussionist Airto, bassist Stanley Clarke, Frank Zappa and many others. The innovative keyboardist, composer and producer was always breaking down boundaries with his music, incorporating jazz, funk, fusion, and soul elements into his recordings, which therefore led to a wide and highly diverse following. Overtime, Duke became a sought-out producer working with artists like Dee Dee Bridgewater, Smokey Robinson, the Pointer Sisters, Gladys Knight, his cousin Dianne Reeves and many others. His ties to the Bay Area were also very strong, as he was born in San Rafael, California and went on to study at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Cedar Walton, on the other hand followed a much different path, making his mark earlier in the hard-bop scene during the fifties and sixties, most notably with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. Before stepping out as a leader in the seventies, the legendary pianist was featured on many notable recordings led by jazz heavy-weights like Clifford Jordan, Jimmy Heath, Kenny Dorham, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Abbey Lincoln, Lee Morgan and many others. Interestingly enough, Walton also recorded with John Coltrane in 1959 during the Giant Steps sessions, even though the alternative takes weren't released until much later on a CD-reissue. During the seventies the pianist released many solid recordings as a leader, including a few under the Eastern Rebellion name, which included collaborations with other jazz greats like bassist Sam Jones, drummer Billy Higgins, saxophonist Clifford Jordan, Bob Berg, and George Coleman. Walton was inducted as a member of the NEA Jazz Masters in 2010, and remained active all the way up until his passing, consistently recording and touring. Fellow NEA Jazz Master and legendary vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson calls Walton, "one of the most prolific composers and improvisors of the post bop-era." Over the years, SFJAZZ is proud to have presented the pianist several times.

Both George Duke and Cedar Walton leave behind strong legacies in both the jazz world and beyond, and will sadly be missed.

Recommended Reads
George Duke Is Dead at 67 by JazzTimes' Jeff Tamarkin
George Duke, Legendary Jazz Keyboardist, Dies by NPR's Eyder Peralta
Jazz Pianist Cedar Walton Dies by NPR's Mark Memmott

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