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Brother Jack McDuff: Age 74
January 23, 2001
Heart Attack
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Eugene McDuffy
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jackmcduffss.jpg (8019 bytes)  GORDON'S CD PICK: Silken Soul

 

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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 the 1960s.

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 to capacity.

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

NY TIMES

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 McCauley.

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 act.

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.

 

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All-Music Guide

Born: Sept. 17, 1926 in Champaign, IL

A marvelous bandleader and organist as well as capable arranger, "Brother" Jack McDuff has one of the funkiest, most soulful styles of all time on the Hammond B-3. His rock-solid bass lines and blues-drenched solos are balanced by clever, almost pianistic melodies and interesting progressions and phrases. McDuff began as a bassist playing with Denny Zeitlin and Joe Farrell. He studied privately in Cinncinnati and worked with Johnny Griffin in Chicago. He taught himself organ and piano in the mid-'50s, and began gaining attention working with Willis Jackson in the late '50s and early '60s, cutting high caliber soul jazz dates for Prestige. McDuff made his recording debut as a leader for Prestige in 1960, playing in a studio pickup band with Jimmy Forrest. They made a pair of outstanding albums, Tough Duff and The Honeydripper. McDuff organized his own band the next year, featuring Harold Vick and drummer Joe Dukes. Things took off when McDuff hired a young guitarist named George Benson. They were among the most popular combos of the mid-'60s, and made several excellent albums. McDuff's later groups at Atlantic and Cadet didn't equal the level of The Benson band, while later dates for Verve and Cadet were uneven, though generally good. McDuff experimented with electronic keyboards and fusion during the '70s, then in the '80s got back in the groove with the Muse session Cap'n Jack. Other musicians McDuff played with in the '60s and '70s include Joe Henderson, Pat Martino, Jimmy Witherspoon, David "Fathead" Newman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons. There are only a few McDuff sessions available on CD, though they include the fine sessions with Forrest. His work with Benson has also been reissued on CD. — Ron Wynn and Bob Porter

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