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Duke Pearson

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Born Columbus Calvin Pearson, Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia, Pearson first studied brass instruments at the early age of five, but dental issues forced him to pursue another instrument and he started to learn the piano. His budding talent moved his uncle to give him the nickname Duke, a reference to jazz legend Duke Ellington.[1] He attended Clark College while also playing trumpet in groups in the Atlanta area before joining the United States Army in the early 1950s. [2] Pearson continued to perform with different ensembles in Georgia and Florida, including with Tab Smith and Little Willie John, before he moved to New York, New York in January of 1959. After moving to New York, Pearson gained the attention of Donald Byrd who saw Pearson performing with the the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Sextet (also known as Jazztet). Shortly afterwards, Byrd asked him 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 when and a newcomer named Herbie Hancock took over for him. This eventually led to Hancock taking over the position permanently.[2]

On the 1963 Byrd album A New Perspective, Pearson arranged four tracks, including “Cristo Redentor”, which became a big hit. The song, Pearson later commented, was inspired by a trip he took to Brazil while touring with Wilson.[2] Also that year, after the death of Ike Quebec, Pearson took over his position as A&R man of Blue Note.

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