Ndugu Chancler, ‘Billie Jean’ Drummer, Dies
Leon "Ndugu" Chancler, a veteran drummer with an impressive list of credits in jazz and R&B, died on Feb. 3. He was 65.
The news was reported by Rolling Stone, who received confirmation from his wife, Brenda. The cause of death was not revealed.
Chancler was born in Shreveport, La., on July 1, 1952, and first took up drumming at the age of 13. Before he had even earned his degree in music education from California State University, Dominguez Hills, he had played and recorded with such jazz greats as Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Eddie Harris and Bobby Hutcherson.
From there, he went on to work with heavyweights like Thelonious Monk, Frank Sinatra, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Weather Report, Hugh Masekela, Stanley Clarke, George Duke and Lionel Richie. he received co-writing credits for three songs on Santana's 1976 album Amigos, and picked up a Best Rhythm & Blues Song Grammy nomination for helping to write "Let It Whip" by the Dazz Band.
But it's "Billie Jean," one of three songs on Michael Jackson's Thriller on which he played -- the other two being "P.Y.T." and "Baby Be Mine" -- that is undeniably his most famous recording. In his Instagram post in praise of Chancler, Questlove broke down precisely how the drums make the track.
"In my opinion, the 'Billie Jean' intro is the greatest example of something so simple that you take it for granted," he wrote. "But if you truly dissect it. It’s a complex compelling performance. The tone is spot on. Enough snap on the snare but not too thin that it enters ska/James Brown crack snare territory. The amount of reverb #BruceSwedien applies is spot-on perfect. The performance, however, is timeless like a tuxedo. Or a pair of Chucks. Or jeans and white t shirt. It literally gives MJ his DNA. You know what it is one second in."
Later in his career, he put his degree to use, giving numerous clinics and serving on the faculty of USC's Thornton School of Music as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies. He also taught at Stanford University's Jazz Workshop, Jazz America, the Thelonious Monk Foundation and the Young Musicians Program at Cal Berkeley.