Feature: Wednesday, January 2, 2003
‘when i was 34,i became rich, but it was rich in lifeand playing music.’
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Legend Shadows Part 1

Shannon Jackson’s jazz drumminghas brought worldwide fame— and hometown obscurity.

By Ken Shimamoto

he haunting music wafts out of the black-painted frame house. The notes have no trouble negotiating the double layers of wrought-iron fence, surrounding first the porch and then the yard of Ronald Shannon Jackson’s home. The music elicits no whisper from what looks like an old school bell, or the myriad other bells and chimes hung on the porch enclosure, and raises nary a rustle from the dozens of potted plants that crowd the yard. The strange tunes float around the black 280Z parked in the driveway and out to a visitor on the sidewalk.

Despite the chill of an October night, the front door stands open. Inside, the house is filled with books, c.d.’s, videos, drums, African masks, piles of printed-out e-mails and musical compositions in progress, and odd-looking instruments. An organ and a piano sit in facing corners of the front room. Two large, colorful paintings by Jackson’s lifelong friend Sonny Benton hang in the den.

Follow the music down a hall whose walls are covered with snapshots and scrawled fragments of sheet music. Turn left, and there you find the source of the sounds — Rachella Parks, saxophone player from Jackson’s band, the Decoding Society, playing keyboard, and violinist Lawrence Haywood, auditioning to join the group.

Now a slight but solidly built man with spectacles picks up a strange instrument with multiple bells, like a Medusan version of a clarinet. That’s Jackson, 62, intelligent, articulate, wryly humorous, his hair braided with rivets and New York City subway tokens. What he’s playing is a schalmei, a medieval ancestor of the oboe, and he leads the two musicians through the piece they’ve been rehearsing, the violin echoing Jackson’s plaintive melody over a lush bed of keyboard chords.(Click here to continue...)


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