Legendary jazz drummer and composer Ronald Shannon Jackson, who helped pioneer free jazz and jazz fusion, has passed away. He died of leukemia in a hospice in his hometown Fort Worth, Texas on Saturday morning, October 19, 2013. He was 73.
In a career that spanned more than four decades, Ronald Shannon Jackson collaborated with the pioneers of the avant-garde jazz movement and appeared on more than fifty albums as a band leader, sideman, arranger and/or producer.
Ronald Shannon was born in 1940 in Fort Worth, Texas. His father ran the only black-owned record store and jukebox business in town, his mother played piano and organ at a Methodist church.
Ronald Shannon attended IM Terrell High School, where he studied drumming under music teacher GA Baxter, who also taught notable jazz artists including Ornette Coleman and King Curtis.
After school, Ronald Shannon Jackson began playing professionally in Dallas with members of the Ray Charles Band, then moved to New York City in 1966 to study music at New York University.
After the drummer aligned in the late '60s with several other top musicians, among them McCoy Tyner, Jackie McLean, Joe Henderson, Charles Mingus, Betty Carter and Stanley Turrentine, his career took off.
In 1979 he founded his own band, Decoding Society, a group that featured Vernon Reid of Living Colour.
In 1986, tyhe drummer formed the group Last Exit with guitarist Sonny Sharrock, saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and bassist Bill Laswell. He also worked with Laswell on other projects. In 1987, he formed another group, called Power Tools, featuring bassist Melvin Gibbs and guitarist Bill Frisell.
Jackson kept the Decoding Society alive with a revolving membership into the '90s, but nerve damage to his left arm slowed down his drumming output after the turn of the century, although he continued to compose. His string quartets and other compositions have been performed in Europe and the United States.
He returned to active playing in 2005 when he joined with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, pianist Vijay Iyer and double-bassist John Lindberg in the Golden Quartet.
In 2011, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Vernon Reid and Melvin Gibbs formed a trio called Encryption. The drummer suffered a heart attack while on tour with the group, but soon returned to playing.
Watch how Ronald Shannon Jackson performed Bloodlife last year, his last performance in North Texas: