Duke Pearson

Born Columbus Calvin Pearson, Jr., in Atlanta, Georgia, Pearson began studying brass instruments when he was five years old. However, he had to abandon the instrument due to dental problems and eventually learned the piano. His uncle gave him the nickname Duke to reflect his talent and to honor jazz legend Duke Ellington. After attending Clark College, he also played trumpet in Atlanta before enlisting in the United States Army in early 1950s. Pearson performed with various ensembles in Georgia, Florida, and with Tab Smith and Little Willie John before moving to New York, New York, in January 1959. Donald Byrd noticed Pearson’s performance with the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Sextet (also called Jazztet) after Pearson moved to New York. Soon after, Byrd approached Pearson to ask him to join his newly-formed band, the Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams Quintet. On tour with Nancy Wilson in 1961, Pearson also accompanied her. Pearson fell ill in the same year. Herbie Hancock, a newcomer to the show, took his place. Hancock eventually took over permanently. Pearson composed four tracks for the 1963 Byrd album A New Perspective. This included “Cristo Redentor”, which was a huge hit. Pearson later explained that the song was inspired by a trip to Brazil he made while on tour with Wilson. Pearson also assumed the role of Affidavit in that year after Ike Quebec’s death.

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