Duke Pearson

duke_pearson50f57da2eeb59Born Columbus Calvin Pearson, Jr. in Atlanta, GA, Duke Pearson (1932-1980) started on the trumpet then later switched to the piano. He was soon given the nickname Duke, a reference to Duke Ellington. He attended Clark College in the early 1950’s, and later joined the Army. Pearson performed locally in the south with a number of bands before moving to New York in 1959. He joined Benny Golson’s Jazztet, but was quickly recruited by trumpeter Donald Byrd to join his newly formed quintet with baritone saxophonist, Pepper Adams (not Art Pepper). He recorded with Donald Byrd and quite a few other artists in the early 1960’s and was beginning to make a name for himself as composer and arranger. He was an accomplished lyrical pianist and as a producer at Blue Note records played a crucial role in shaping its hard bop sound in the 1960’s. He is best remembered for writing several compositions such at Jeannine, Big Bertha, New Girl, Sweet Honey Bee, and Cristo Redentor.

Duke Pearson - Episode 1

CompositionArtistAlbumYear
JeannineDuke Pearson/Donald ByrdAt the Half Note v.1-21960
InterfaceHank JonesThe Oracle1989
My Girl ShirlDuke Pearson/Donald ByrdAt the Half Note v.1-21960
Child’s PlayDuke Pearson/Donald ByrdAt the Half Note v.1-21960
ChantDuke Pearson/Donald ByrdAt the Half Note v.1-21960
Minor MishapDuke Pearson/Freddie HubbardGroovy1961

Duke Pearson - Episode 2

Pearson’s first commercial success came as the arranger for Donald Byrd’s 1963 album New Perspective. His composition Cristo Redentor was big hit on jazz and cross-over radio stations that year. From 1963 to 1970 Duke was also an A&R producer at Blue Note Records. Blue Note Records was one of the most important jazz labels in the 1950’s and 1960’s, serving as a barometer for hard bop and all of the derivative styles that it produced. Pearson’s recordings from the mid 1960’s reflect some of his best work as a composer and pianist. By 1966 he began writing for larger groups with more horn players: this allowed him to create interesting colors and textures.
CompositionArtistAlbumYear
Cristo RedentorDuke Pearson/Donald ByrdNew Perspective1963
Big BerthaDuke PearsonSweet Honey Bee1966
Little WaltzDuke PearsonPrairie Dog1966
SudelDuke PearsonSweet Honey Bee1966
Chili PeppersDuke PearsonThe Right Touch1967
Los Malos HombresDuke PearsonThe Right Touch1967

Duke Pearson - Episode 3

On the podcast I will concentrate on Duke Pearson’s skills as a highly inventive big band arranger and composer. By 1967 Pearson was leading a big band in New York which consisted of top jazz and studio musicians, such as Chick Corea, Pepper Adams, Randy Brecker, Marvin Stamm, and Garnett Brown. The latter three were also members of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band that also played at the same night club, The Village Vanguard, but on different nights. The musicians performed at their own discretion between the two ensembles. On the 1967 album, Introducing Duke Pearson’s Big Band, Pearson wrote all of the arrangements, including many original compositions, showing off his skills as a gifted arranger.
CompositionArtistAlbumYear
New GirlDuke PearsonIntroducing Duke Pearson’s Big Band1967
Straight Up and DownDuke PearsonIntroducing Duke Pearson’s Big Band1967
Make it GoodDuke PearsonIntroducing Duke Pearson’s Big Band1967
Minor LeagueDuke PearsonIntroducing Duke Pearson’s Big Band1967