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Duke Pearson

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Biography

Duke Pearson was an accomplished, lyrical, and logical -- if rather cautious -- pianist who played a big part in shaping the Blue Note label's hard bop direction in the 1960s as a producer. He will probably be best remembered for writing several attractive, catchy pieces, the most memorable being the moody "Cristo Redentor" for Donald Byrd, "Sweet Honey Bee" for himself and Lee Morgan, and "Jeannine," which has become a much-covered jazz standard. Pearson was introduced to brass instruments and the piano as a youth, and his abilities on the latter inspired his uncle, an Ellington admirer, to give him his nickname. Dental problems forced Pearson to abandon the brass family, so he worked as a pianist in Atlanta and elsewhere in Georgia and Florida before moving to New York in 1959. There, he joined Donald Byrd's band and the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Sextet, and served as Nancy Wilson's accompanist. In 1963, he arranged four numbers for jazz septet and eight-voice choir on Byrd's innovative A New Perspective album; one of the tunes was "Cristo Redentor," which became a jazz hit. From 1963 to 1970, Pearson was in charge of several recording sessions for Blue Note, while also recording most of his albums as a leader. He also led a big band from 1967 to 1970 and again in 1972, hiring players like Pepper Adams, Chick Corea, Lew Tabackin, Randy Brecker, and Garnett Brown. Pearson continued to accompany vocalists in the 1970s, such as Carmen McRae, but he spent a good deal of the latter half of the decade fighting the ravages of multiple sclerosis. ~ Richard S. Ginell
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