Columbus Calvin “Duke” Pearson Jr. (August 17, 1932 – August 4, 1980) was an American jazz pianist and composer. Allmusic describes him as having a “big part in shaping the Blue Note label’s hard bop direction in the 1960s as a record producer.”
Pearson was born Columbus Calvin Pearson Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia, to Columbus Calvin and Emily Pearson. The moniker “Duke” was given to him by his uncle, who was a great admirer of Duke Ellington. Before he was six, his mother started giving him piano lessons.
Pearson performed with different ensembles in Georgia and Florida, including with Tab Smith and Little Willie John, before he moved to New York City in January 1959. He had, however, been able to get at least one song, “Tribute to Brownie” (dedicated to Clifford Brown), recorded by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet on their 1957 album, Sophisticated Swing. In New York, Pearson gained the attention of the trumpeter Donald Byrd, who saw Pearson performing with the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Sextet (known as the Jazztet). Shortly afterwards, Byrd asked Pearson to join his newly formed band, the Donald Byrd–Pepper Adams Quintet. Pearson was also the accompanist for Nancy Wilson on tour in 1961. During that same year, Pearson became ill before a Byrd-Adams show, and a newcomer, Herbie Hancock, took over for him. Hancock eventually took over the position permanently.