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Ronald Shannon Jackson: 1940 – 2013

Jazz drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson passed away in October of 2013. He was a powerful drummer in a band that broke down a lot of barriers and blended many genres of music: The Decoding Society. The Decoding Society was more edgy, funky, driving. Looking in my KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic archives and there is my aircheck of an interview I did with him on September 28, 1982. It was in KCRW’s old location, the John Adams Middle School campus. His band had just returned from Yugoslavia and after its gig at Club Lingerie, they were off to Japan. His new album was on Antilles Records, an imprint of Island Records usually dedicated to jazz.

Jackson, like another guitarist James Blood Ulmer, was doing with his guitar something similar to what Ornette Coleman was doing on alto saxophone. He worked with Ornette’s Prime Time band. He called his own music “Heavy Swing”. Others called it “No Jazz”, or “Punk Jazz”.

I asked him if jet lag made him play ahead of or behind the beat. We hit it off. He had a ruminative mind, and spoke philosophically on life and music.

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Man Dance, released in 1982

I didn’t make the Club Lingerie gig that night and never saw him again. He died in the city of his birth, Fort Worth Texas, a breeding ground for some great musicians: King Curtis, Booker Ervin, Wilton Felder, Ornette Coleman. Jackson was a versatile drummer who could do more mainstream gigs, accompanying Betty Carter, Stanley Turrentine, Kenny Dorham and Ornette Coleman. His first professional gig was with Charlie Mingus. Scary debut! Jackson even worked with the amazing Albert Ayler, and told me of the saxophonist’s kind and gentle nature, helping old ladies cross the street and offering umbrellas during the rain.

Here is a segment of Ronald Shannon Jackson performing with The Decoding Society at the Jazz Jamboree in Poland, 1988.

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