“I’m an orchestrator,” Ndugu Chancler told me when we spoke for his first Modern Drummer feature, in 1983. “The drums are just the instrument I use to orchestrate and paint the picture.” Chancler, who passed away on February 3 at the age of sixty-five, “orchestrated” not only the music of top jazz artists, he backed pop stars, country legends, funksters, and rock icons alike. He was a man of many hyphens: a producer-composer-arranger-drummer-percussionist-vocalist. He studied the business side of the industry, and started a production company. He raised his cymbals high to set himself apart visually. He played drums on the biggest-selling album of all time. And he spent the last twenty-three years sharing his knowledge in the Popular Music program at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music.

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