R.I.P. George Duke

I was sorry to learn that the prolific pianist George Duke died this past week. I had the pleasure of seeing him live with Frank Zappa in the early ’70s. He played a lot of great music during his 67 ½ years.

Below is a video clip from a French television broadcast featuring a performance—starting at about the 1:14 mark—of “REDUNZL” (aka “RDNZL”) by one of Zappa’s greatest bands, including not only George Duke but also Ian Underwood (woodwinds), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Ralph Humphrey (drums), Tom Fowler (bass), Ruth Underwood (marimba), and Jean-Luc Ponty (violin). Not the best video quality, but it’s a nice taste of what Zappa’s music was like around the time of Studio Tan / Läther.

For a taste of George’s later work, here’s “My Piano” from his 2002 album “Face the Music”

Denny McLain on the Bench

Denny McLain baseball card

I’ve known for years that Denny McLain, the phenomenal, controversial Detroit Tigers pitcher who won 31 games in 1968, was also an accomplished organist. Only recently have I heard his music, though — thanks to the video below of the fastballer at the keyboard on the Ed Sullivan Show.

As the late Atlanta Braves announcer Skip Caray might say, “Honesty compels me to report” that this video features one of the corniest arrangements of “Girl from Ipanema” ever. (My tastes run more to groove, funk, and jaw-dropping virtuosity.)

Still, though, you’ve got to give McLain credit. Just four days after he’d pitched Game 6 of the World Series on two days’ rest, en route to his team’s seven-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, here he is playing with his quartet on national TV — relaxed, confident, and zzzz… what was I saying? Oh yes, McClain’s quartet pulls off a flawless, if tepid, rendition of the bossa nova classic. Not only that, but Cardinals ace Bob Gibson joins McLain’s band toward the end of the video for a generic blues tune, strumming a few rhythm chords on an electric guitar (appropriately, a Gibson hollow-body).

Denny McLain Quartet, Ed Sullivan Show, 1968 - with special guest (yourememberthat.com)

By the way, that same month the Hammond Times ran a nice story about the musical side of Denny McLain.

Today, McLain is apparently devoting most of his time to charitable events and occasionally writing for InPlay Magazine. His most recent book is I Told You I Wasn’t Perfect.

Denny, if you’re reading this, I wish you all the best — and I hope that you (and your lawyers) will take my good-natured ribbing in the playful spirit in which it was intended.

P.S. – Let me add that the autoharp is also a very nice instrument. Just sayin’.

Inside Cass Tech

Interactive Map, Cass Technical High School – original location (DetroitUrbex.com)

Looking for urban exploration (“UrbEx”) photography, I came across this cool interactive map of Cass Tech — the original building, that is, which was closed in 2005 and demolished in the summer of 2011. This was the Detroit magnet high school attended by so many jazz musicians, Geri Allen, Tommy Flanagan, Frank Rosolino, Donald Byrd, Regina Carter, Kenny Burrell, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Wardell Gray, and Lucky Thompson among them. Diana Ross and Jack White went to Cass, too.

Wow, I bet they had some great pep bands!

Chemistry Lab, 5 Years After School Closed (DetroitUrbex.com)
Biology Class, Back in the Day (DetroitUrbex.com)

Today Cass Tech is alive and thriving in a new location. Here’s hoping they keep on producing illustrious graduates!

Cass Tech Today
Cass Tech Today (DesignShare.com)