Friday, February 24, 2006

Jazz Wizard George Duke Recalls Early Days

He doesn't talk all that much about it, but jazz keyboard wizard George Duke attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music — on a trombone scholarship.

The reason was simple, Duke recalled: He didn't think he was good enough to get one of the school's piano scholarships.

"They had too many classical piano players. I didn't have their chops. I couldn't keep up with them," Duke said of the applicants the year he applied. "But they also had a brass scholarship for trombone and they didn't have any trombone players. So I knew I could get that one!"

A Wednesday news conference announcing that Duke and fellow jazz great Stanley Clarke will be among the headliners at the 28th annual Playboy Jazz Festival in June got the modest keyboardist to reminiscing afterward about his early days.

This year marks the first time he and bassist Clarke have toured extensively together since 1990.

"Stanley and I decided at the end of last year to do a couple of dates, and we had so much fun we said let's make a commitment," Duke recalled as he stood in the back yard of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner's Holmby Hills home.

"We were going to do an album," he added. "But our agents put out some leads and the next thing we knew we were doing a world tour."

That means they'll be doing the album next year, he said. When it comes time to record it, don't expect Duke to pick up a trombone. He did years ago at the late Frank Zappa's insistence, he says, but seldom has since.

"It's a great instrument," Duke said. "It's just not my instrument."

By JOHN ROGERS, Associated Press Writer

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