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Chubby Jackson: 1918-2003
Chubby Jackson

Born: October 25, 1918 in New York, New York
Died: October 1, 2003 in Rancho Bernardo, California

Chubby and Duffy Jackson, the Only Father-and-Son Bass and Drum Team in Jazz

by W. Royal Stokes
Copyright © 2003 W. Royal Stokes

Photos courtesy Duffy Jackson

Duffy Jackson called me the day after his father, the great bassist Chubby Jackson, died on October 1 and we arranged to do a telephone interview a couple of days later. I said that I would add to this tribute piece some excerpts from the profile of him and his father that I includied in my Living the Jazz Life: Conversations With Forty Musicians About Their Careers in Jazz (Oxford University Press, 2000).


"You knew the magnitude of what my father attempted to accomplish in his short time here on the planet, Royal," Duffy began, "even though it was almost eighty-five years. My dad really tried to instill a certain energy and desire and dedication into the rhythm and the groove to the point where people of all ages would be enlightened to an alternative approach to feeling the pulse. I'm not sad in any way, shape, or form with my dad's passing. Quite frankly, I'm getting messages from him right now so clearly on how to handle the next few steps of what would happen after his passing here on earth.

"My dad instilled such a love for just jamming with younger musicians and trying to create a musical happening every time I would walk on the bandstand. That was our spiritual place where we could just lock into that beautiful infinite power of energy to make the music come alive. My dad and I, being the only father and son bass and drum team in the whole history of American swing music, were permitted to be the heartbeat and foundation of the pulse and the groove in any band we played with. So we would put our Jackson spirit and that First Herd energy into any band we played with together. The love that we had for one another is so extraordinary in its magnitude of being able to play time and swing with a groove since I've been four years old. Don Lamond andmy father made sure that I could at least keep a beat before Don went back to New York after recording that Chubby's Back! record in Chicago in '57.

Chubby and Duffy

My father and I played music all over the world together. I'm thinking that a Chubby Jackson Big Band tribute should be done in New York City and maybe in Los Angeles or Chicago, just to let the people know the spirit that my dad played with. I've been getting a vision that I should do a Chubby Jackson big Band right now under the direction of his son and pay tribute to that gorgeous, beautiful, postive energy that needs to be put back in the music of today.

"About ten days before he left, the San Diego Jazz Orchestra that my dad had performed with for years set up on the grass by the side of the terraceof his home and played with mutes real softly and slowly for around an hour and at one point my dad got up out of the chair and walked out to the terrace and scatted, like, ten choruses of blues and broke it up. He still had that energy. Everybody living around there came over, there were around two-hundred people, it was a happening. Then he sat down like it was nothing and ten days later he was gone.

Chubby with Don Lamond

"I called the hospice to get a little update on his condition around twenty minutes before he passed, on the First of October. I got a nurse on the phone and I said, "Do me a favor, go up to my dad and whisper in his ear,'''S happenin', Funky Poppa? What's happenin'?"' And you know what? He blinked his right eye five times! Just to let her know that he was still Funky Poppa. Ten minutes later he was gone."

The following are excerpts from Living the Jazz Life: Conversations With Forty Musicians About Their Careers in Jazz (Oxford University Press, 2000) and are posted here with permission of the publisher.

"I was born July 3rd, 1953, in Freeport, Long Island," Duffy began his story, "and two weeks after I was born we moved to Chicago. I didn't have too much choice in the matter. My father at that time was doing his Little Rascals TV show. I think that was around 1954, '55. He had played with Woody Herman in the 1940s and with Louis Armstrong in the '50s for a short while, but my mom said, 'Hey, I have three kids here, I need you to take care of them,' that sort of thing. So he came off the road and we settled in Chicago and he went into a TV phase.


"My father used to wake me up in the middle of the night when I was three years old to play brushes on a chair and scat sing for all his friends." Duffy chuckled at the memory. "So I feel that through just hangingwith all the cats late at night I had a nice little education as a jazz baby. At the age of four Don Lamond saw me playing some congas and keepin' a beat and he said to my dad, 'Hey, he's keepin' time with these records here!' So they went and got me a bass drum and a little snare and a high-hat and cymbal and Don taught me how to keep some time."

"My dad and I, when we would be in the car, I would be playing brushes on the dashboard, with the windshield wipers going back and forth and we would be scatting together. And I was into the pots and pans and all that kind of stuff. I'll tell you something, my father and I have had such a fantasy dream life with jazz. I believe that we are the only father-and-son-bass-and-drum team in jazz."

Now, mind you, so far we are only at about age four of Duffy's life.

"So my mom gave my dad a set of bongos for his birthday. My dad always hated the bongos 'cause they used to cover up the bass sound. So they stayed on the mantelpiece most of the time, and I used to climb up there and get'em down all the time to play on 'em. When I was around five years old, Gene Krupa gave me a drum lesson on television. I didn't even know who he was, he just said, 'Play the tom-tom.' So we did a bit together on my dad's show. When I was six years old Roy Burns worked out with me for a little while. I did drum clinics with Louie Bellson for Rogers Drums when I was eight years old. I was on TV many, many times through my childhood, on shows like I'veGot A Secret and the Mike Douglas Show and the Jerry Lewis Telethon , as a child prodigy playing piano and bass and drums and scatting and all that stuff. I used to stand on a chair and play the bass. I could play the blues in C when I was five or six." Duffy also studied with drummers Ray McKinley and Buddy Rich.

"My dad and I lived together and we traveled all over the world. I was in twenty schools kindergarten through high school, man! We went all over the country making music together with our father-and-son act, Chubby and Duffy, and then it was Duffy and Dad. We were vagabond jazz musicians. We had to move around because, I'll tell you something, in a world of rock'n' roll Dad and I had a very difficult time tryn' to play jazz. We would put together whatever groves we would have, trios or quintettes, piano and trumpet and tenor, and sometimes we'd have another drummer or percussionist. We played with all the heavyweights that were in New York. Dad had the best musicians that money could buy. Mainstream through bebop. Straightahead swinging. I even had Dad in the later years singin' and playin' some Stevie Wonder and Chick Corea stuff. He was very progressive. At times, one of the horn players could keep enough time and then I would get out front and scat and play the piano and the bass and Dad and I would do our little bits together on the mike. It's a very loving thing when you see Dad and I talking on the mike together, having fun with each other. It's cute.

"We were down in Florida from the years '67 through '71 and when I was fourteen I sat in with Duke's band in West Palm Beach. Duke, as you remember, would never get off the piano during intermission, he always composed. So he's sitting at the piano and I'm in the wings right there, and there's a big crowd there, like 15,000 people or something, big West Palm Beach Auditorium thing, and Duke says, 'Hey, Duffy, get up here!' And Cootie was juiced and says, 'Aw, Duke, don't let that kid play, man!' You know, that kind of thing.

"So I got up there and we just started playing with the rhythm section. Jeff Castleman was the bassist at that time and he was only around nineteenor twenty and a great bass player. I was fourteen. Just bass and piano and drums. I started just playing time on the high-hat, real soft and easy, and none of the guys in the band, except for Cootie, were on the bandstand yet, 'cause they all trickled off whenever they felt like it." He chuckles at this reference to the notorious independence of the Ellington band members.

"So, anyway, Duke and the bass player and myself, we started playing around forty choruses of blues and it got cookin', and I never evenwent to the ride-cymbal, I just stayed right on the high-hats, but I opened the bump just a little bit. Al McKibbon taught me this years ago, there's an old trick, if you open up the high-hat cymbals just slightly, all of a sudden the high-hats start to shimmer and glimmer and sizzle and it creates a very interesting atmosphere. And we started swingin' a nice easy tempo, a little bit slower than 'Rockin' Rhythm' or somethin' like that, and by the time the whole band came on we were cookin' so hard it was ridiculous and there was a whole newfeeling to Duke's band. All of a sudden, Johnny Hodges started playing, and Paul Gonsalves started playing, and Cootie got up there, and he was laughin' and smilin' and groovin' with me. Why -- why -- I mean, it wasjust such a -- a joyous, fantasy experience, I'll never forget it. My old drum teacher taped it and the tape got caught up in the machine and got crunched. It wasn't meant to be preserved. Duke wrote my dad a nice little note sayin', 'Dear Chubby, Thanks for letting Duff play with the band. Love, Duke.'

"I'm still Chubby's kid. My over-zealousness or whatever it is. I don't know what aggravates certain musicians that are from the cool, slick, laid-back school. I mean, hey, I'm very proud to be a vaudevillianof jazz. I'm into entertaining people. The most exquisite jazz in the world might be boring to watch sometimes. So you gotta give people a show when all these people are out there dancin' and jumpin' all over the place. People remember me. They may not know my name but they say, 'Oh yeah, I remember that big fat drummer that was with the Basie band.'

"I'm tryin' to carry on the tradition of the Chubby Jackson groove in this business. I mean, when Dad was kickin' Woody's band without a bass amp and you felt that groove on 'Caldonia' and 'Apple Honey' and 'Your Father's Moustache' and all that." He interrupted his train of thought for an aside. "That was, like, almost the first rapp record, huh?

"All I'm sayin' is that that period and the energy and the drive and the love for swingin' hard, that's the groove that my dad was known for. My destiny and dedication is to really put the grin back on the groove and help people to feel a certain love for the American art form of jazz and its history. That's all I'm attempting to do now, to fit that into working with other people.

"Through my association with my father, I was permitted an opportunity to at least get a shot up there. Now, I had to earn once I was up there. I mean, if I wasn't makin' it as a player they wouldn've let me back again. But, through my dad's association I was permitted at least an opportunity to prove myself. But since the age of seven, I decided I did not want to be Chubby Jackson, Jr., I wanted to be Duffy. My dad said, 'Hey, man, don't be Chubby.' Dad always influenced me about that. So, I do have a purpose, I'm trying not to sound like anybody else. Individuality is a very special thing with me. I want to hear the person play, I don't want to hear them imitate a master. I mean, I could barely imitate myself! I'm constantly proving myself, even at this age. I've been playing since 1957, so down deep I'm very proud to be on the last tip-end of the old-school concepts, which I respect totally, and I give a lot of respect to the grand masters of this music. I'm not really part of the yuppie jazz era."

W. Royal Stokes
W. Royal Stokes was editor of Jazz Notes, the quarterly journal of the Jazz Journalists Association, from 1992 to 2001 and has been editor of JazzTimes and the Washington Post's jazz critic. He is the author of The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990 (Oxford University Press, 1991), Swing Era New York: The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson (Temple University Press, 1994), Living the Jazz Life: Conversations with Forty Musicians about Their Careers in Jazz (Oxford University Press, 2000), and Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers (Oxford University Press, 2005). He is currently at work on a memoir and his fourth collection of profiles of jazz and blues musicians.


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