MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Jack McDuff, a jazz organist who worked with some of the most famous
names in jazz music during a career that began in the 1950s, died Tuesday of an apparent
heart attack. He was 74.
Collaborators during his career included guitarists George Benson and Mark Whitfield
and horn player Red Holloway.
Born Sept. 17, 1926, in Champaign, Ill., McDuff fronted Heatin' System, a popular band
of the mid-1960s that featured Benson, Holloway and drummer Joe Dukes.
He traveled last year with a recreation of Heatin' System that featured horn players
Andrew Beals and Jerry Weldon, guitarist John Hart and drummer Rudy Petschauer.
McDuff recorded with several well-known labels, including Prestige in 1960. His latest
work, yet unreleased, was recorded under his current label, Concord Jazz, said John
McCauley, McDuff's Minneapolis-based agent.
'Brother' Jack McDuff, Veteran
Soul-Jazz Organist, Dies At 74
"Brother" Jack McDuff, the soulful
master of the Hammond B-3 organ who helped launch the career of guitarist George Benson,
died Tuesday (Jan. 23) in Minneapolis of an apparent heart attack after having suffered a
series of strokes in recent months. He was 74.
McDuff was a pillar of the soul-jazz
movement of the 1960s, playing the leading instrument of the style, the Hammond B-3 organ.
McDuff had a knack for working with the very best guitarists, such as Pat Martino, Kenny
Burrell, Dave Stryker, Mark Whitfield, and Dave Specter. Soul-jazz guitar giant Grant
Green made his recording debut on McDuff's The Honeydripper in 1961, and Benson
also debuted under McDuff's aegis, with a featured spot on 1963 album Brother Jack
McDuff Live!. (Benson's first album as a leader was The New Boss Guitar of George
Benson, on which he was backed by McDuff's quartet.)
After hearing of McDuff's passing, Benson issued a statement, saying, "Jack McDuff
gave me the most important foundation for communicating my music to others. He pointed out
the elements that are universally common to us all. I owe a great deal of my success to
the man we know as Brother Jack McDuff."
"He was a great guy, just very warm-spirited," said Chicago-based blues
guitarist Dave Specter, who recorded the 1996 album Left Turn on Blue with McDuff.
"He loved playing the blues."
McDuff was born Eugene McDuffy on Sept. 17, 1926 in Champaign, Ill. After serving in
the U.S. Navy, McDuff -- then playing acoustic bass -- worked with such jazz artists as
pianist Denny Zeitlin and reedman Joe Farrell, and also led his own band. He later moved
to Chicago, where he worked such leaders as Johnny Griffin and Max Roach.
A Chicago club owner suggested to McDuff that he switch to organ, which appealed to him
-- as he was already a fan of Hammond B-3 master Jimmy Smith. McDuff taught himself to
play the keyboard, and formed a new group in 1959. He made his Prestige Records debut the
following year, Jack McDuff Plays for Beautiful People. With the success of his
Prestige albums, McDuff's Heatin' System, the band that featured Benson,
saxophonist Red Holloway, and drummer Joe Dukes, became one of the top soul-jazz acts of
Over the next four decades, he went on to record for the Atlantic, Cadet, Blue Note,
and Concord labels, and performed with such jazz artists as Carmen McRae, Joe Henderson,
Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, Yusef Lateef, Roy Hargrove, and Don Braden,
as well as blues greats Joe Williams, Etta James, and Jimmy Witherspoon.
After experimenting with the synthesizer in the 1970s and '80s, McDuff ultimately
returned to the Hammond B-3 for which he'd become famous. In the late 1980s, McDuff was
playing at the Minneapolis nightclub Artists Quarter, when he met the woman who would
become his wife. He moved to Minneapolis in 1988 to be with her.
McDuff remained very active until suffering from strokes in 2000, and had recorded a
new album for Concord in 2000, which has yet to be released. Benson, Martino, and
Whitfield performed at a New York benefit for the stricken McDuff, which filled the venue
Jack McDuff, who will be buried in Minneapolis, is survived by his wife, Kathy Ann
McDuff; and his stepchildren Lisa and Ricky Johnson. Further funeral arrangements were
pending at press time. -- Drew Wheeler
Jack McDuff, Organist of
Soul-Jazz, Dies at 74
By BEN RATLIFF
Jack McDuff, an organist who helped popularize
soul-jazz, a blues- drenched jazz form of the 1950's and 60's, died on Tuesday in
Minneapolis. He was 74.
The cause was a heart attack, said his manager, John
Mr. McDuff, sometimes nicknamed Brother or Captain, was
born Eugene McDuffy in Champaign, Ill. He started his career in 1947 in Gary, Ind., as a
bassist and pianist, and later moved to Chicago, where he played with Johnny Griffin and
Max Roach. He took up the organ only when a club owner asked him if he could play it, and
he learned to play for fear of losing a job.
He became one of the most soulful players of the
Hammond B-3, an instrument that forces its operator to figure bass lines on foot pedals
while simultaneously playing lead and rhythm lines. He moved to New York with the tenor
saxophonist Willis Gator Tail Jackson, performing and recording with him, and started to
lead his own groups on the side. His saxophone collaborators included the tenor players
Jimmy Forrest, Harold Vick and Red Holloway, and in 1963 the guitarist George Benson
joined the band, which became known as the Heatin' System and became a popular touring
Mr. McDuff recorded more than 60 albums for Prestige,
Concord and other labels, never taking an extended break from music. The soul-jazz
recordings generally featured a Hammond organ and a saxophone and often had album covers
bearing suggestive pictures of women and sometimes platefuls of greasy food. His last
recording, "Brotherly Love," is scheduled to be released in June by Concord.
After spending most of his career in Chicago and New
York, Mr. McDuff moved to Minneapolis in the late 1980's. He is survived by his wife,
Kathy Ann, and two stepchildren, Alesia Johnson and Rikki Davenport, all of Minneapolis.