Duke Pearson Discography

Compiled by Michael Fitzgerald
First published February 8, 1998

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Columbus Calvin Pearson, Jr. was born on August 17, 1932 in Atlanta, GA and died there on August 4, 1980.

While this is the most comprehensive and accurate discography on Duke Pearson ever produced, there still may be omissions and errors. Please help if you can.

Thanks to contributors:

Daniel Agurén, Randy Brecker, Kevin Bresnahan, Ilza Carvalho, Ed Chaplin, Michael Cuscuna, Shawn Dudley, William Fielder, Mark Gardner, Ira Gitler, Bill Kirchner, Jonathan Kutler, Douglas Payne, Vincent Pelote, Michel Ruppli, Bob Rusch, Marvin Stamm, Bertrand Überall, Kenny Washington, Matthew Wingate, Dennis Whitling, Jack Woker

Special thanks to all the staff at the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies where I had access to virtually every issue listed in the discography as well as the various relevant published sources.


General discographies: All-Music Guide, Bruyninckx, Jepsen, Lord, Raben
Label discographies by Michel Ruppli: Atlantic, Blue Note (with Michael Cuscuna)

Some biographical notes:

Columbus Calvin Pearson, Jr. (called ‘Duke’ after Ellington) was born August 17, 1932, attended Clark College and played trumpet in local Atlanta groups (although he started on piano at age five). He served in the army with notable musicians as Phineas Newborn and Wynton Kelly (c. 1953). After touring with Tab Smith and Little Willie John, Pearson moved to New York City in January of 1959. Trumpeter Donald Byrd heard him and he was soon working with some of the finest jazz players of the day and recording for Blue Note Records, the label which would play a major role in his life.

For a few months in 1960, Pearson was a member of The Jazztet before joining the newly-formed Donald Byrd-Pepper Adams quintet (bringing Jazztet drummer Lex Humphries with him). No recordings exist of this version of The Jazztet.

Pearson toured with singer Nancy Wilson in 1961, during which time he traveled to Brazil, which inspired the creation of one of his best-known pieces, “Cristo Redentor”.

“Coming into Rio, you see Corcovado peak with its huge white statue of Christ. That sight led me to write this composition right away. I’d never felt that close to religion before.” - liner notes to Donald Byrd: A New Perspective

Pearson had this to say on the subject of the Jazzline trio session: “God damned crooks, that crook let that stuff out. I think his name was Fred Norsworthy, all I know is that was some crooked stuff they did. To put music out like that, those were some outtakes and I don’t know what happened. Do you realize I never got royalties for those? Never from the company. Those were not legitimate, that’s why they’re on Polydor - whatever.”

In 1961, while touring with the Byrd-Adams group, Pearson became ill. Filling in for him for the engagement (at the Birdhouse in Chicago) was a young Herbie Hancock, who became his permanent replacement. Following the death of Ike Quebec (January 16, 1963), Pearson took his place as A & R man for Blue Note Records. His arranging skills were used by many Blue Note artists and he later served as producer for a number of sessions.

“I was with both at the same time because when I went with Atlantic I said, ‘No exclusive contract, put it in there I can record for Blue Note too,’ and I did.”

In July of 1967, the big band that Donald Byrd and Duke Pearson co-led debuted at the Village Vanguard. The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band had played Monday nights at the Vanguard since 1965 and the two bands shared personnel (notably Pepper Adams, Jerry Dodgion, Garnett Brown).

Pearson ceased his A & R and production work with Blue Note when Blue Note co-founder Frank Wolff died in 1971. The label had been sold to Liberty Records in 1966 and co-founder Alfred Lion retired in 1967. Pearson taught at his alma mater, Clark College in 1971 and in 1972 and 1973, he toured as accompanist to Carmen McRae and Joe Williams (“Joe Williams is easier to work with than anybody else I ever worked for.”). He also reformed his big band in 1972. Pearson died on August 4, 1980 at Atlanta Veterans Hospital from multiple sclerosis.