Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Bassist Chubby Jackson Dies

Chubby Jackson, a swing and bop bassist and scat singer responsible for bringing many future star players into Woody Herman’s First Herd, died in Rancho Bernardo, Calif. on October 1 after a long battle with kidney failure and cancer. He was 84.

Jackson was known as “the Cheerleader” to many people in the jazz community-he exhibited a visible enthusiasm for the music he made and was known to make rousing vocal interjections while playing onstage with Herman’s Herd.

He was born Greig Stewart Jackson in New York City in 1918, the son of Vaudevillian performers. After a short stint on clarinet as a teenager, Jackson was playing bass professionally by 19. He swung with the big bands of Henry Busse, Jan Savitt and Looney tunesmith Raymond Scott before finding himself in clarinetist Woody Herman’s band in 1943. Jackson’s wild, high-energy bass pulse pushed Herman’s band in a more modern direction than it had ever gone before and the forward-thinking players Jackson helped bring into the band, including trumpeters Pete Candoli and Neal Hefti and pianist Ralph Burns, made the total sound all the more exciting. Jackson also contributed to the band’s repertoire and co-writ one of its signature tunes, “Northwest Passage.” The First Herd disbanded in 1947, but Jackson returned to Herman a year later for a tour and years later he participated in Herman band reunion shows.

Life after the Herd was just as busy for Jackson. He ended the 1940s working in saxophonist Charlie Ventura’s band and leading his own group on a Scandinavian tour. In the 1950s Jackson spent much time as a sideman, playing in sessions with Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Charlie Barnet and Roy Eldridge, among others. But he also cut a few albums as a leader, for labels like Argo and Everest.

In the 1960s Jackson hosted a children’s television program on Chicago’s ABC station. The show featured musical performances by an 18-piece big band in between Little Rascals film shorts. It was later rebroadcast in New York City. Teaching children about jazz was important to Jackson, who had three children of his own. His son, Duffy, is a professional jazz drummer who says: “It is my sincere honor to have been taught music by my father, one of the true champions of jazz. It is my musical destiny to carry on the legacy of the Jackson groove. Rest in peace, Funky Papa.”

Jackson quit playing bass in 1998 but continued singing scat until his death. He leaves us with a discography that includes collaborations with Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker and Ben Webster, in addition to all those named above.

Jackson is survived by his wife of 20 years, Margot and his three children Myno, Duffy and Jaijai, from his marriage to his first wife, Joan, and a granddaughter Chloe Zae.

Originally Published