Friday, November 1, 2013


Ronald Shannon Jackson
There is sad news to report on the hard jazz front.  The Legendary Ronald Shannon Jackson, or RSJ, passed away peacefully this past week. The man was a giant in his own right, but was also behind such groups as The Decoding Society and Last Exit. He was known for his larger than life drumming but was also a masterful composer and one of the only people I have ever heard of to play the schalmei, a personal favorite of mine which looks like a mutant trumpet-oboe and can play sounds straight out of Super Mario Brothers. 

A pioneer of free and hard jazz, but truly unbound by categories. The raw power and talent in music his has touched many, including one of the best drummers and overall most radical guys out there, Eric Slick. Slick took some time out of his busy schedule touring time behind the kit of Dr. Dog and Lithuania. A legend in his own right, I asked Eric if he had anything to say about the passing of RSJ. This was his response:
"I'm not worthy of speaking about a titan of drumming such as Ronald Shannon Jackson. I first became familiar of his work through friends who played in the avant music scene in Philadelphia/NJ. A lot of Philly dudes (Jamaladeen Tacuma, etc.) were in Ornette Coleman's Prime Time, which probably meant they played with Ronald at some point. I'm a big fan of abrasive and unhinged improvised music, and RSJ's 80's group Last Exit with Peter Brotzmann, Sonny Sharrock, and Bill Laswell is downright incendiary. I don't know the song title of this one, but I remember that it freaked me out for a while:

Ronald is aggressive, free, and simultaneously melodic in his playing. This isn't noodling, this is a cohesive effort to terrify the audience with his sheer power. Who plays drums like this anymore? Brian Chippendale, Ches Smith, Tyshawn Sorey, and Chris Corsano come to mind - but not many drummers besides those beasts can groove this hard, even while playing free. RIP Ronald Shannon Jackson, and may your musical legacy live on well beyond your years."

Can't say it much better than that.

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