Kindred Spirits: Ndugu Chanceler
It’s not often you get an opportunity to actually watch the professional growth of a musician up-close through most of their career,but in the case of Leon “Ndugu” Chanceler,I did. There’s many good things about growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s or 60s..You had opportunities a kid from Shreveport, Louisiana during that era was never going to have. My parents moved us to Los Angeles in 1960.
By 1963,I was learning saxophone and music theory. As in the case of Ndugu Chanceler, he too was from Shreveport, Louisiana. he started playing and studying music at 13,He grew up in LA (Watts area)in the 60s,just like me! I graduated from Cal State University Dominguez Hills, so did he. I guess that makes us kindred spirits and “Home Boys”. But that’s where the the meter on his side rises and explodes off the Charts. One Night, I was attending the famous jazz club, the Lighthouse where Willie Bobo & the BoGents were the group performing. Willie Bobo, a Purveyor of great talent,a master drummer- percussionist himself. He no longer playing the “Traps”.
Bobo was out front now on timbales and vocals.. but, seated behind this mountain of drums,cymbals,and gear, was this youngster who hardly looked all of 15 or so. It was,at that time Leon(Ndugu) on drums. And man! could he play. I cut my teeth on listening to all the jazz masters on drums and seeing all I could, when they came to the Lighthouse or Shelly’s Manne Hole in Los Angeles. Billy Higgins,Frank Butler, Louis Hayes,Max Roach and Art Blakey frequented the LA club scene often.. I now have a guy from my generation who displays all of the jazz history and legacy into his playing AND,then piles on monstrous groove patterns at tremendous tempos with the greatest of ease,smiling like he just ate the canary! That was my introduction to Ndugu Chanceler!
In my humble opinion, the two “baddest Cats” on drums coming out of Los Angeles late 60s to early 70s were, Ndugu Chanceler and “Sunship” Theus(RIP) another great drummer from my generation. These drummers were younger than Jack DeJohnette, Billy Hart,Billy Cobham, but still played on a higher level as the 70s emerged. Jazz went all “Electric Fusion”,Fender Rhodes pianos Synthisizers(MOOG)technology was in play, and Ndugu was was right in the middle of that music era strong! Still maintaining his roots in Jazz performing with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, Bobby Hutcherson, and Gerald Wilson Big Band. In a flash of an eye, doubling up on calls with George Duke, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock’s Jazz Fusion bands. In addition, his recording sessions list was equally stellar also. Chanceler has also worked with Stanley Clarke,Jean-Luc Ponty,Donna Summer,George Duke,Patrice Rushen,Carlos Santana,Hubert Laws,The Crusaders,Frank Sinatra,Weather Report,Lionel Richie,Kenny Rogers,Thelonious Monk,Herbie Hancock and John Lee Hooker. Most famous of all, The King of Pop.” Michael Jackson! THE Drummer on Thriller’s Billy Jean”.
Ndugu(Leon)Chanceler, from his humble beginnings in Los Angeles at Holy Chapel Missionary Baptist Church under Pastor William Cobbs,to, Grammy winning recordings,to being honored at the University of Southern California’s www.usc.edu/visionsandvoices Visions and Voices Humanities & Arts program Sept 23.
Chanceler is also a member of Percussive Arts Society and has been named as one of the top 25 Drummers in the world! Follow Robert J. Carmack discussions and reviews on jazz at twitter: @blues2jazzguy