1920 - November 23, 1973

Doug Duke

Black and white photo of Doug Duke playing the piano
Courtesy of dougduke.com
Ron Carter

Born in 1920 in Buenos Aires, Argentina to a concert violinist father and vocalist mother, Doug Duke arrived in Rochester, his mother’s hometown, at the age of two. He spent his early young adult life traveling and playing with various bands (one, purportedly, was Lionel Hampton’s), before getting a gig as the only paid musician at Squeezer’s. There, he often attracted a crowd for his unique personality and talent at playing the organ and piano simultaneously. In his column Seen and Heard, Henry Clune describes Duke at Squeezers:

“On a small, crowded dais at the far end of the rectangular room, Doug Duke sat sideways on an armless bench in such a manner that he could play a piano with one hand, an organ with the other. Doug is a young man with hollow cheeks, a midnight pallor, a gaudy sport jacket He’s “» real weird guy.” as the cats put it, in their strange and wonderful language; “the greatest, monstrous! He really comes on!” 

While at Squeezer’s, Duke built and played an instrument he dubbed “The Duke-a-Tron” which was a combination of a piano and an organ. As a result, Duke was considered “the father of the jazz organ” due his liberating its primary use in churches. 

After his time at Squeezer’s and touring, Duke opened up his own club at 4449 Lake Avenue called The Music Room. When Duke passed away at the age of 53, he went down in Rochester history for his life-long “love affair with music” and as “one of the very top pianists of of the late 1930s,” according to Rochester Orchestra leader Carl Dengler in his obituary for the Democrat and Chronicle.

Pee Wee Ellis

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