Leon “Ndugu” Chancler has died. He was 65. The pop, soul, funk, disco, jazz, R’n’B and rock drummer will be remembered best as the drummer on Thriller. The creator of the perfect beat in Billie Jean but he was a veteran who had worked with masters including Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, George Duke, Jean-Luc Ponty, Lionel Richie, Frank Sinatra, The Temptations, Santana, Donna Summer and many, many more.
He was a master clinician also.
You can hear his playing on Weather Report’s Tail Spinnin’ for instance (check out this). He’s there on albums by jazz greats Hampton Hawes, Harold Land and Eddie Harris. He worked with film composer Lalo Schifrin.
But if he had only played on Thriller he would be a drummer still studied and revered.
I mean, the intro fill to Baby Be Mine where he all but wrong-foots himself, and yet somehow comes out of it leaving listeners scratching their heads as to what happened – and how.
An amazing talent, a “perfect” player – he is remembered by his musician friends as a gentle soul, a towering knowledge, percussive lifeblood.
And he played on Thriller! He was the drummer on Billie Jean!
R.I.P. Ndugu Chancler