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NDUGU CHANCLER,
1952-2018

Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, the jazz drummer and percussionist who supplied the drumbeat for Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” died 2/3 in Los Angeles of prostate cancer. He was 65.

In the 1970s, Chancler toured and recorded with Miles Davis and Santana, was a member of Weather Report and led his own funk-pop group, The Chocolate Jam Co. As a first-call drummer, he also recorded with countless pop singers, among them Frank Sinatra, Lionel Richie, Tina Turner and Donna Summer and worked on multiple albums by the keyboardists George Duke, Herbie Hancock and Patrice Rushen.

A Louisiana native who moved to Los Angeles, he got his start playing with Willie Bobo and then in Gerald Wilson’s big band while still a teenager.

Chancler started playing with Davis in 1971, joining Santana three years later. Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul drafted Chancler for Weather Report’s album Tale Spinnin’.

After his Chocolate Jam Co. made two albums for Epic, he started concentrating on studio work. Quincy Jones hired Chancler to play on Thriller’s “Billie Jean,” “P.Y.T.” and “Baby Be Mine;” he also drummed on Bad.

Jones tweeted “RIP to my bro/integral member of my Killer Q posse in the rec studio… The countless sessions are too many to list but ur prolific pedigree as a jazz drummer/producer/session man ensures ur signature drum beats will beat in our hearts forever.”

Chancler was also a producer and drummer on Tina Turner’s comeback Private Dancer, wrote for The Dazz Band and released three solo albums, the last being 2012’s 3 Brave Souls with John Beasley and Darryl Jones.

It was the percussionist James Mtume who gave Chancler the nickname of Ndugu, a Swahili word for brother.

Chancler was also a professor of jazz studies at the Thornton School of Music at USC.

 

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