05/12/07

Drummer Ron Jefferson Dies at 81

Ron Jefferson, an earthy, bebop-schooled drummer who performed and/or recorded with a number of eminent players during the 1950s and ’60s, died Monday after having been hospitalized with a debilitating illness. He was 81.

A New York native, Jefferson performed and/or recorded with some of bop, hard-bop and soul-jazz’s lodestar figures from the early 1940s through the mid-’60s, including Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Randy Weston, Freddie Redd, Joe Roland, Joe Pass and Oscar Pettiford. He performed as part of Jazz Modes, a group with Charlie Rouse and Julius Watkins that released records on Atlantic in the late 1950s. Jefferson recorded and toured extensively with pianist Les McCann’s trio, cut albums with organist Groove Holmes in the early 1960s and appeared on Lou Rawls’ 1962 Blue Note offering Stormy Monday. Jefferson also lived in Los Angeles, where he recorded with Zoot Sims and the Joe Castro Trio, Tricky Lofton and Victor Feldman, among others. He cut a record as a leader in 1962 for the Pacifica label called Love Lifted Me and another in 1976 for Catalyst titled Vout Etes Swing! (“You are swing!”)—a loving sentiment directed at him by the Paris jazz community he took part in beginning with his relocation there in the 1960s.

While giving a free concert with his Jazz Choir group in Paris during the mid-’60s, Jefferson met Ms. S. Jenika, whom he would later marry. In an e-mail, Ms. Jenika relayed that Jefferson had made two recordings for Polydor, The Speaker and Every Little Bit Helps, but felt the label failed to properly promote his music. The couple returned to New York with hopes that Jefferson’s music would garner more attention and acclaim, but to no avail. They divorced in the 1970s.

Ms. Jenika expressed how Jefferson was completely dedicated to jazz and playing his drums while they lived together in France: “He’d practice everyday, faithfully,” she said via phone. The couple’s daughter, Ms. Serene Prat, took after her father in several respects. In an e-mail, she detailed how she performed as lead drummer in her high-school bands and has an "intense love for music."

Jefferson is survived by three daughters and one son, his former wife Ms. Jenika, and Ms. Maxine Smith, his companion for the past 15 years.

His funeral will be held May 14 at 10 a.m. at Joseph Jenkins Jr. Funeral Home in Richmond, Va.

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