Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ronald Shannon Jackson

Ronald Shannon Jackson, Toronto, June 1991

I WASN'T ALWAYS A BIG JAZZ FAN. It took me years to really understand the music, starting when I was a teenage punk and heard the Benny Goodman small groups playing over the speakers in a vintage clothing shop on Queen West. I remember buying the first Lounge Lizards record, mostly because I liked their look, A few years later a college friend patiently tried to nudge me along, encouraging me to buy Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, taking me to see Wynton Marsalis at Convocation Hall.

It wasn't until I was working as a music critic at Nerve magazine, where I met Tim Powis and Howard Druckman, who told me about a whole school of noisy, aggressive, funk and punk-affiliated post-fusion jazz happening mostly in New York City - artists like James Blood Ulmer, Joe Bowie and Defunkt, Material, John Zorn, Jamaladeen Tacuma and Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society.

While some part of me wishes I'd become a jazz fan thanks to Coleman Hawkins or Lee Morgan or John Coltrane, I have to admit that I was only completely won over when Shannon Jackson joined forces with Material's Bill Laswell, German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann and guitarist Sonny Sharrock to form Last Exit - a poundingly loud, noisy "supergroup" that made rank and file jazz fans recoil in horror (and probably still does.)

Ronald Shannon Jackson, Toronto, June 1991

Which is why I was thrilled when Ronald Shannon Jackson came to Toronto in the summer of 1991, playing at the Bermuda Onion, a short-lived jazz club on the city's toniest shopping street, with his band. My enthusiasm was such that I don't remember if I had any kind of backing for this shoot, which I probably did on spec, nudged along by the probability that I knew the promoter or booker.

I did the shoot in a hallway behind the club - the only large space with enough clean white wall to set up my lights. I did a roll with Shannon Jackson and his whole band - not scanned or posted here because it was exactly the sort of messy composition you'd expect with six or seven people in a clump - and a few where Shannon Jackson insisted on being photographed playing his flute.

Ronald Shannon Jackson, Toronto, June 1991

I didn't include those, either because, hell, why take a picture of one of the most powerful drummers you've ever seen playing a flute? I mostly did it to be nice.

There are pretty OK portraits, but probably not the best I've ever done. As with anything I was shooting at the time, I always imagined them becoming album covers, if I was lucky. And I'm pretty sure that anyone who's seen it knows how much this photo had to do with the one at the top of this post.

Ronald Shannon Jackson died in Fort Worth, Texas on October 19, 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so so much for posting these, Rick! I had the privilege of knowing Ronald for over 30 years and your photos here must be among the best ever taken. Best not only in being great photos but unique in capturing Ronald's beauty & charisma. ---Robert Horvitz PS my brief obit for Ronald is at