Columbus Calvin "Duke" Pearson Jr. (17 August 1932, Atlanta, Ga. – August 4, 1980, Atlanta, Ga.) was an American composer and jazz pianist.
Before he was six, his mother started giving him piano lessons. He studied the instrument until he was twelve, when he took an interest in brass instruments: mellophone, baritone horn and ultimately trumpet. He was so fond of the trumpet that through high school and college he neglected the piano. He attended Clark College while also playing trumpet in groups in the Atlanta area. While in the U.S. Army, during his 1953–54 draft, he continued to play trumpet and met, among others, the pianist Wynton Kelly. Pearson himself confessed in a 1959 interview that he was "so spoiled by Kelly's good piano" that he decided to switch to piano again.
Pearson performed with different ensembles in Georgia and Florida, including with Tab Smith and Little Willie John, before he moved to New York City in January 1959. He had, however, been able to get at least one song, Tribute to Brownie, recorded by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet on their 1957 album, Sophisticated Swing. In New York, Pearson gained the attention of the trumpeter Donald Byrd, who saw Pearson performing with the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Sextet (known as the Jazztet). Shortly afterwards, Byrd asked Pearson to join his newly formed band, the Donald Byrd–Pepper Adams Quintet. Pearson was also the accompanist for Nancy Wilson on tour in 1961. During that same year, Pearson became ill before a Byrd-Adams show, and a newcomer, Herbie Hancock, took over for him. Hancock eventually took over the position permanently.
On the 1963 Byrd album A New Perspective, Pearson arranged four tracks, including Cristo Redentor, which became a hit. The composition, Pearson later commented, was inspired by a trip he took to Brazil while touring with Wilson. Also that year, after the death of Ike Quebec, Pearson took over his position as A&R man of Blue Note. From that year until 1970, Pearson was a frequent session musician and producer for numerous Blue Note albums while also recording his own albums as bandleader. This was odd, since Pearson also recorded with his co-led big band with Byrd for Atlantic Records, a stipulation he made sure was in his Atlantic contract. The Byrd-Pearson band consisted of musicians such as Chick Corea, Pepper Adams, Randy Brecker, and Garnett Brown; the latter three were members also of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band that played the same night club, The Village Vanguard, but on different nights. Between the two ensembles, the musicians performed at their own discretion.
Pearson's compositions include the now standard, frequently covered Jeannine, composed in 1960.
As a small side project at Blue Note, Pearson penned the liner notes for Grant Green’s 1963 album, Idle Moments. He was the pianist for the recording. Having also composed the album’s title track, he wrote, “I wonder while listening to this recording, just what the people involved were thinking of while idling away (so to speak). The dreamlike mood that prevails gave me the idea of naming this tune Idle Moments.”
Pearson eventually retired from his position with Blue Note in 1971. He opted to teach at Clark College in 1971, toured with Carmen McRae and Joe Williams through 1973, and eventually re-formed his big band during that time. He died of multiple sclerosis in 1980.
Works for Winds
- Jeannine (arr. Peterson) (1960/2020)
- Duke Pearson, Wikipedia Accessed 30 October 2020