Marcus Duke kickin' it in Grazalema

My Story

I got into music as a form of hearing therapy. A wicked ear infection left me nearly deaf when I was very young, but my mom would find me plinking on the piano, picking out melodies by ear. When she told the doctor about it, he suggested that I take lessons.

Well, I took to it like a fish to water, and have never stopped playing since I was 4.

I had the great fortune to go to several excellent schools, including Performing Arts High School (the "Fame" school), Juilliard Preparatory School, and Mannes College of Music. The focus at these schools was all classical. But at the same time, my mom was an avid jazz fan, and her boyfriend of many years, Tommy Nola, owned a recording studio in the penthouse suite of the Steinway building on 57th and 5th. So between mom and Tommy and a lot of their friends, I got exposed to everything from Dave Brubeck to Lenny Tristano, Ella, Miles, Oscar, and the list goes on.

Then along came the mid-60s and groups like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. Perhaps more important in the long run, I happened to hear this unbelievably cool Wurlitzer piano part on a tune by the Cannonball Adderly group. Some of you already know what I'm talking about. It was Joe Zawinul, playing Ray Charles' electric piano on one of his own tunes, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. That was the first single I ever bought.

That was it for me: I had to be part of this new music. But electric keyboards were not very far along (Fender Rhodes didn't even exist yet), so instead, I started my new phase playing electric bass.

For much of my teen years, I lived in the Lower East Side and spent countless hours at Filmore East (if not inside, then with my ear plastered up against the freight entrance door on the side of the theater, which actually sounded really good!).

When I moved to LA in '71, and electronic keyboards became more common, I bought a Fender Rhodes and have been focused on keyboards ever since (except in the late '90s, when I took up acoustic guitar again).

After a couple of years in LA, I put together an instrumental group, ... Nothin' Sirius, playing a fusion of jazz, rock, R&B, classical, and so forth. One of the band members had a friend who was the engineer at Eldorado Studios (just north of Hollywood on Vine), so we were able to record there. It was through that connection that we had the fortune to hook up with pianist, composer and producer Ron Fair, who brought us on to the Baby Grand record label.

We recorded three albums and most of us played on many other recordings for that label as well. It was a fun time, with our group's only real directive from Ron—who had a light but insightful touch as a producer—to be creative. In some ways, I never had it so good again in terms being on a label and having so much freedom. It's been pretty much DIY since then.

During this time I also played with many other musicians, including singer Lou Rawls. One of the most memorable experiences I had in LA was playing in Roland Vasquez's Urban Ensemble. He is a gifted drummer/percussionist and composer, and I can never thank him enough for all I learned playing with him and his 8-piece ensemble (three horns). He left a permanent mark on me. A major highlight of my musical life was touring with his group with the help of NEA money Roland was able to procure to help underwrite travel costs, pay the band, and enable us to play for free at places like high schools. Roland was a very good entrepeneur!

By the late 70s, "jazz fusion" (what the hell does that mean, anyway?) was falling out of favor, I was tired of LA and I moved to the Seattle area to be with the woman I eventually married (we've been together nearly 39 years now).

Since then, I've continued to play in numerous bands, and produced three more recordings: Somewhere In Between, Floating Point; solo CD of unfinished works, Not Done Yet; and the latest "solo" effort, Petrichor Dreams (by "solo" I mean I wrote all but one piece, did all the arrangements, some engineering, and co-produced it with long-time music partner Jamie Jones).