Source: The New York Times
Leon "Ndugu" Chancler was a highly respected and influential American pop, funk, and jazz drummer who has had an accomplished and triumphant career in the music industry.
On top of that, he was also a composer, producer and university professor.
Chancler was the youngest born child in his family of 7 siblings on July 1, 1952 in Shreveport, Louisiana and picked up learning the drums when he was only thirteen years old.
A funny story happened when he was a child which he would always publicly reminisce and joke about - during his school years he was kicked out of his classroom for constantly tapping on his desk, only to be caught drumming on the poles in the hallway moments later.
Despite not having the financial means to afford formal drum lessons, he persevered and honed his skills through dedication and hard work. He learned from drummers around him such as Stix Hooper and Ed Thigpen. At the same time, he would always be asking other drummers to show him what they had learned from their teachers.
Drumming became Chancler’s all-consuming passion while he was studying at Gompers Junior High School, and he never looked back. He went on and became a drumming powerhouse at Locke High School, performing with Willie Bobo and the Harold Johnson Sextet.
Chancler technically began his career as a professional drummer while he was going through his university life at the University of South California. This is where he began performing with the Gerald Wilson Big Band and Herbie Hancock and recording with some other artists that turned into the biggest names in industry, including Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Bobby Hutcherson.
He got the Swahili nickname Ngudu (“Earth Brother”) from James Mtume during the time he was performing as a percussionist on Hancock’s album Mwandishi in 1971.
Despite his achievements and jam-packed schedule, Chancler never neglected his studies and was able to graduate with a degree in music education.
After college, he joined a group invited by Miles Davis and his career only went upwards. From there he frequently recorded as a sideman in various genres including blues, jazz and pop music. Such artists that he worked with are George Benson, George Duke, Hubert Laws, Thelonious Monk, Lionel Richie, Patrice Rushen, Frank Sinatra, The Temptations, Stanley Clarke, Kenny Rogers, Santana and many more.
An honorific legacy, he was the drummer for several of the most iconic songs of all time with Michael Jackson including “Billie Jean”, “Baby Be Mine” and “P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)”.
He also received a Grammy award nomination for his contributions to the highly funky song "Let It Whip," co-written with the Dazz Band, and also played on Tina Turner's hit album "Private Dancer.
Aside from his success as a musician he was also a respected educator as he became an adjunct Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies in 2008 at the University of Southern California.
He would also teach on the West Coast at the Stanford Jazz Workshop during every summer for three weeks.
On top of this Leon was also a member of the Percussive Arts Society.
Throughout his career, Chancler has used a variety of drum equipment, including Ludwig, Gretsch and Yamaha drum kits, Paiste cymbals, ProMark Hickory Custom Made drumsticks and Remo CS Black Dot, Remo Ambassador, Remo Fiber Skyn and Remo Fiber Skyn 2 Heads.
He has also endorsed several drum products, including Remo and the Ndugu Chancler Signature Snare Drum from Yamaha.
Over the years, Chancler never really stuck to the same set of cymbals. He would always switch things up to achieve a variety of sounds. These would include:
An unfortunate ending to a wonderful life, Chancler passed away at the age of 65 on February 3, 2018 after a long battle with prostate cancer, which he has been fighting with since 2003.
In 2018, the Ernie Watts Quartet released a song called “Home Light” dedicated to Chancler.
Leon Chancler started playing the drums in 1965 at the age of 13.
Leon Chancler died on 3 February 2018 at the age of 65.
Leon Chancler played the drums for 52 years.
Throughout his career Leon Chancler has used Remo, Paiste, Yamaha, Shure, Ludwig, Gretsch and ProMark.
He is known for playing Jazz, Pop, Funk, Blues and Jazz.
Counting all his Albums, Leon Chancler has been featured on at least 425 recordings.
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