I delayed making this post about drummer and composer Ronald Shannon Jackson because a part of me hoped that the news was a bad rumor, but I consider Vernon Reid an extremely reliable source for this instance—Ronald Shannon Jackson has left us at the age of 73.
I’ve written on another site about my first encounter with Jackson’s music where I was driving north on 6th Avenue in NYC one Sunday night and a radio station played Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society’s 1983 Montreux Jazz Festival performance of “Zane’s Fangs.” The song was filled with light-speed tempo changes, thunderous drums, a powerful horn section, a banjo(!) and a double-bass attack.
The experience made me pull over and shut off the engine so that I could properly absorb what I was hearing. The radio station then played “Alice in the Congo,” where I heard everything that was embodied in “Zane’s Fangs,” plus angular genre shifts.
“THIS is what fire sounds like” was one of my reactions, and began to wonder how this performance evaded my heat-seeking radar for so long.
I went on a Jackson album-buying spree the next day.
As I became more familiar with Jackson’s work, I was struck by how he not only appeared comfortable with playing improvisational Funk, Free Jazz, Progressive Rock and Blues in same song, but he also felt equally at ease with letting gifted, young musicians like Melvin Gibbs and Vernon Reid shine as bright as their ambitions allowed.
As far as I could see and hear, Jackson maintained, if not increased, his receptivity to new ideas. He still had more music in his head to share with us.
The last point is another reason why Jackson’s transition cuts so deep. I’ll miss him from my viewpoint as a music lover, but I’m sure the loss is even more painful to those who personally experienced Jackson’s mentorship, as well as his presence as a leader and co-creator.
Rest in Love, Brother…