George Duke came out of the jazz world, entered a long apprenticeship in the rock world, and ended up making a whole new career as one of the more successful producers of R&B pop music in the business. Born in Marin County to a working class family, his mother had taken him to see the Duke Ellington Orchestra at a very young age. The experience would influence him enough to take piano lessons.
Duke, a truly gifted jazz keyboardist, began his career as a jazz accompanist, working a myriad of established jazz personalities and using his trio to back a young French violinist named Jean-Luc Ponty. Working with Ponty gave him a window to the elite of the jazz world, including Quincy Jones. In the end, it would lead to stints working with a number of jazz greats, including Cannonball Adderly, Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, and Dizzy Gillespie. He had also embarked on a solo career that included a successful album of solo jazz piano improvisation.
In 1969, Duke's management was taken over by Herb Cohen, who at the time was representing rock icons, Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention. With Zappa, Cohen had formed a Warners distributed label that had signed the likes of then-unknown Alice Cooper and the GTOs. When Zappa recorded his first real solo album, Hot Rats, Cohen brought George Duke into the mix. Duke ended up joining Zappa's touring band and spent most of the early 1970s on the road with him.
Soon after, he returned to the jazz world, this time embracing the exciting world of jazz-rock fusion. Duke, who was a student of the latest keyboard technology, was an early pioneer of blending traditional piano and organ sounds with the cutting-edge electronics being developed at the time. Musically, he was leaning closer to the frantic fusion of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chic Corea's Return To Forever than the swing world he had originally started in. In the mid-1970s, he formed a fusion band with ex-Mahavishnu drummer Billy Cobham, and later, would do the same with bassist extraordinaire, Stanley Clarke (who had come from RTF).