“I was in a rock band, I played with a bunch of Brazilians, I played R&B with Parliament-Funkadelic and all of that,” he said in an interview before his most recent album, “DreamWeaver,” was released last month. “I mean, I’ve done jazz with Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley. It’s a goulash. It’s a gumbo.”
Mr. Duke, who as a small boy begged his mother to buy him a piano after she took him to see Duke Ellington, began playing professionally at a time when many musicians were interested in blending genres. He played in a trio that backed the singer Al Jarreau while he was still a teenager, then accompanied Dizzy Gillespie and other jazz musicians at clubs in San Francisco. By the early 1970s he had performed and recorded with Adderley, the jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. (His long stint with Zappa included an appearance, with the rest of the band, in the feature film “200 Motels.”)
Zappa “told me one day that I should play synthesizers,” Mr. Duke wrote on his Web site. “It was as simple as that!” Urged by Zappa, he said, he experimented with a few types of synthesizers before settling on the ARP Odyssey, “purely to be different from Jan Hammer, who was playing the Minimoog.” Mr. Hammer was a member of the guitarist John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, one of the first jazz-rock fusion bands to achieve widespread success.