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Jazz Classics Featuring Patrice Rushen and Ndugu Chancler - Verizon Music Festival

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Ndugu Chancler—the legendary drummer known for providing the infectious backdrop to Michael Jackson’s ’82 hit “Billie Jean”—passed away on Saturday (February 3). According to The Rolling Stone, Chancler’s death was confirmed by his wife, Brenda, though the cause of his death was not immediately revealed. He was just 65 years old.

If you’re a  millennial, then you likely know Chancler for his masterful work on MJ’s Thriller album. The drummer produced magic for the aforementioned “Billie Jean,” along with “P.Y.T.” and “Baby Be Mine.” Roots drummer Questlove called “Billie Jean” the core of MJ’s DNA, stating that “you know what it is ONE SECOND in.”

“In my opinion, the ‘Billie Jean’ intro is the greatest example of something so simple that you take it for granted,” Quest wrote on Instagram. “But if you truly dissect it. It’s a complex compelling performance. The tone is spot on. Enough snap on the snare but not too thin that it enters Ska/James Brown crack snare territory.”

Jazz aficionados also know Chancler for his collaborations with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Carlos Santana, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, among others. In recent years, Chancler graced many stages while teaching at the Stanford Jazz Workshop and other musical institutions worldwide. As fans, family members and peers remember the span of Chancler’s prolific career, CASSIUS takes a look back at five of the icon’s most noteworthy performances.

Rest in peace to a great.

Ndugu Chancler x Miles Davis – “What I Say”


Ndugu Chancler x George Duke – “Back to Where We Never Left”


Ndugu Chancler x Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean”


Ndugu Chancler x Tina Turner – “Help!”


Ndugu Chancler x Herbie Hancock – “Hang Up Your Hangups”


Ndugu Chancler x The Chocolate Jam Co – “Give Your Love”