The world got a little less funky with the passing of Leon Ndugu Chancler. “In my opinion, the ‘Billie Jean’ intro is the greatest example of something so simple that you take it for granted,” is how Questlove described the beautiful groove and compelling technique of Ndugu, as he was commonly known, who passed away Saturday at the age of 65.

Chancler, born July 1, 1952 in Shreveport, Louisiana, began playing drums at age 13. By high school he was playing with artist such as Willie Bobo and Harold Johnson Sextet and in college worked with jazz greats Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Bobby Hutcherson.

Over a five-decade career Chancler spanned the worlds of jazz, funk, blues, and pop, gaining his greatest fame perhaps for his drum part on “Billie Jean.” But that was just one of many recordings he played on with Santana, Weather Report, Miles Davis, Patrice Rushen, and many others. He co-wrote the Dazz Band hit “Let It Whip” in 1982.


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In recent years he had spent most of his time teaching. In 2006 he became an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California. He also taught at the Stanford Jazz Workshops, Percussive Arts Society conventions, and in many clinics around the world.

Ndugu Chancler Playlist.

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