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Eddie Duran 1925 – 2019

The San Francisco guitarist worked his way up from poverty to play with Vince Guaraldi, Cal Tjader, Benny Goodman, and many more

Eddie Duran
Eddie Duran at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Half Moon Bay, Calif., April 5, 1979 (photo: © Brian McMillen [])

Eddie Duran, a guitarist who spent nearly 80 years as the standard bearer of jazz guitar in the San Francisco Bay Area, died Nov. 22 at his home in Sonoma, California. He was 94.

His death was confirmed by his wife of 36 years, the former Madeleine Askew, to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Duran was San Francisco’s top-call guitarist for decades, a favorite of touring musicians who stopped through town, such as Stan Getz, George Shearing, and Earl Hines. He was also a longtime collaborator of fellow San Franciscans Vince Guaraldi and Cal Tjader, both friends since his youth. In addition, he spent five years in Benny Goodman’s late-1970s orchestra. He also recorded three albums under his own name and performed regularly in a duo with his wife, a saxophonist and clarinetist.

A high-school dropout, Duran lacked much in the way of formal musical training. After only a few months of lessons, he began teaching himself to play, and by the time he was 15 had developed enough technique to begin playing professionally. Although his career coincided with the popularity of the electric guitar, Duran remained an acoustic player; though he regularly used a hollowbody electric, he did so with a minimum of amplification and no effects. He also tuned his guitar strings down a full step from conventional tuning, thus establishing a signature sound.

“Eddie’s guitar playing was very soulful,” bassist Dean Reilly, a longtime friend and co-member with Duran in Vince Guaraldi’s trio, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Music is spiritual,” Duran said in a 2015 interview with KSVY radio. “And when we’re out there playing, we’re in kind of an out-of-body experience and we bring the audience with us. For maybe two or three hours, the audience is sitting close together, and no one’s mad at each other … I’ve told them, if you feel yourself in a negative mood, just think back on that moment and you’re happy.”

Edward Lozano Duran was born on Sept. 6, 1925 to Fernando, a cigar roller, and Emma, a housewife, both immigrants from Veracruz, Mexico. He was the youngest of six children growing up together in San Francisco’s Mission District. The family was extremely poor, and the children made the decision on their own to learn instruments and try to bring in some extra pay. At seven years old, with his brother Carlos already playing guitar, Edward was assigned to piano. However, his personal preference was for guitar, and he began picking out the tunes he heard Django Reinhardt play on the family record player. He officially switched instruments at 12 and took lessons for about seven months before returning to teaching himself. The family band played Mexican music and won several talent contests; however, by the time he was 15, Edward had quit high school and was working behind touring jazz musicians who came to town, continuing until he joined the Navy at 18.

Returning to San Francisco at World War II’s end, Duran and his brothers, pianist Manny and bassist Carlos, formed a trio inspired by Nat King Cole’s star band. The youngest Duran also became a licensed barber; married a singer, Arlene Wolf; and continued freelancing with traveling musicians, including Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Shearing, and Getz. In the early 1950s the Duran Brothers became the house band at a new club, the hungry i, in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, opening for the headlining comedians.

Soon, however, Duran was asked by his childhood friend, pianist Vince Guaraldi, to join Guaraldi’s own trio with bassist Dean Reilly, and in 1954 they became the hungry i’s house band—with the Duran Brothers as their opening act. The following year, Guaraldi introduced the Durans to his previous employer, vibraphonist Cal Tjader, and they joined his mambo quintet as well.

Duran quickly became the predominant guitarist on San Francisco’s bebop scene, a ubiquitous presence at the clubs in the city’s Fillmore, Tenderloin, and North Beach districts. Along with Guaraldi, Reilly, and Tjader, he also became a regular session musician for San Francisco’s Fantasy Records, and later for Concord Jazz.

He spent several years in the early 1970s touring with Pearl Bailey and her husband Louie Bellson, including a State Department tour of the Middle East. Benny Goodman had called Duran in 1945 with an offer to join his band, though the guitarist had then declined; when Goodman called again in 1976, shortly after the death of Duran’s first wife from cancer, Duran joined the band, working in Goodman’s small group as well and continuing with them through 1981.

That year, Duran met saxophonist and clarinetist Madeleine “Mad” Askew, who became his primary musical partner for the next 35 years. They married in 1983 and often performed as a trio with various drummers and hand percussionists. In the late 1980s, they built a career in New York (though they returned after a few years to the Bay Area). Duran also performed frequently in duos and trios with his daughters Sharman, a pianist, and Pilar, a fellow guitarist. He remained a busy freelancer and solo performer well into his nineties.

In addition to his wife and daughters, Duran is survived by a son, Joel, of San Mateo, California.

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.