Legendary free-jazz composer and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson died of leukemia on Saturday. He was 73.

In 2003, Fort Worth musician and writer Ken Shimamoto profiled Jackson for the Weekly (“Legend Shadows,” Jan. 2), not long after the Fort Worth-born/New York City-bred pioneer returned to the Fort, where he would spend the rest of his days.

At the time of Shimamoto’s story, there wasn’t much of a jazz scene here. All we had were the Sunday night jams at The Black Dog Tavern downtown and Wednesday night get-togethers at The Moon plus the occasional Bertha Coolidge gig and, of course, Johnny Case every night (often in trio form with Joey Carter and Byron Gordon) at Sardines Ristorante Italiano in the Cultural District.

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All of those venues are closed; have been for a while.

In Shimamoto’s story, Jackson says something pretty telling: “When I left Fort Worth to go to New York,” he said, “they” –– meaning Fort Worth musicians –– “were playing all these corny songs like ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ … ‘Sunny.’ When I came back [in 1996], they were still playing all those same songs. I’m not about that.”

Funny thing is, “they” aren’t even playing “Days of Wine and Roses” or “Sunny” anymore. Except for Fort Worth Library’s monthly series, weekends at Scat Jazz Lounge downtown, and Thursday nights at Shipping & Receiving on the Near Southside (and, OK, Jazz Café’s Sunday brunches), there’s a dearth of quality jazz in town, outfits like Flipside and Los Noviembres –– and Dreamy Soundz Recordsnew comp album –– notwithstanding.

Is the world going to end? Hardly, but until Fort Worth develops some sort of progressive jazz scene, “Cowtown” may remain an accurate moniker.


  1. Ok, let’s think a little more about this. Not everything that happens at Scat Lounge is going to fall in the wheelhouse of most serious jazz listeners, but they still easily surpass what The Black Dog offered up in terms of serious jazz both in quality and frequency. I heard Delfeayo Marsalis there, among many others, and if he hadn’t died I would’ve heard Freddie Hubbard there. That should be the end of the discussion over whether the Black Dog void has been filled. Don’t know if you heard, but Johnny Case moved to Ray’s Prime Steaks, so now you can hear him play without even having to eat mediocre Italian food. The Fort Worth Library series doesn’t deserve to be glossed over – it’s seismic in terms of what it’s offering our jazz scene. I saw Fred Hersch there, free. What ever happened here within five years on either side of 2003 that belongs in the same conversation with a free Fred Hersch trio concert? The Jazz Monsters are at Embargo regularly, and offer a chance to hear a big band that at least understands their repertoire and swings. McDavid Studio at Bass Hall has brought in acts at decent ticket prices that make 2003 Fort Worth look like the musical Middle Ages. Live Oak Music Hall? Hello? Sundays at Times Ten Cellar? You mentioned Jazz Cafe so clearly you’re trying to list literally every venue in town where anyone can be seen with an instrument in their hands. Hopefully you won’t feel so bad now.

  2. Thanks for your input, Alan. Not counting traveling shows (that’s another discussion entirely), let’s put my two cents and your two cents together. What we’re left with is a local jazz scene that –– while not wholly recumbent –– is pretty tame. In 2002-05, the scene here was (perhaps in a misguidedly romanticized way) a little dangerous. Painters, lawyers, indie-rockers, doctors –– they all jostled for elbow-room at The Black Dog and The Moon. The music also certainly wasn’t just sonic wallpaper (only during brunch or happy hour) or a museum exhibit. The music was the thing. It was being pounded and blown out mostly by Fort Worth cats, and it was right there in front of your face. There’s nothing similar today, and I think that’s a shame. Jazz is the people’s music, not just the professors’. And it shouldn’t always be accompanied by the clinking and clacking of utensils.

  3. I understand – I think we just have different things we’re looking for. For me, if I wanted to pick the “jazz is the people’s music” thesis for how the jazz scene should look, I’d never be happy because my idea of “the people” isn’t just artists, doctors and lawyers. If you’re talking about “the people” defined more broadly as all those who will happily sit and listen to art music without a drink in their hand or an appetizer on their plate and the occasional chit chat, I have bad news: those may be people – they may even qualify as diverse in a limited sense – but they aren’t “the people”. I have worse news yet: if they’re sitting and listening to music without making any of the little tinkling noises of commerce after paying little or nothing to get in, the place they’ve come to do that is probably not long for this world. The good news is that some of the best sides in jazz history are recorded over a background of glasses and silver being clinked by people who really did care about what they were listening to, even if they weren’t in that vanishingly small group that is certainly not in any shape, form, or fashion “the people”, who can sit in silence for an hour or more – so if you happen to be listening to music played really well and you overhear someone sit a glass down or lean over and talk to the person next to them, you don’t necessarily have to book it out of there and roam the streets in search of the elitist vision of humanity, huddled close and holding their collective affluent breath to know that you’ve found the “real” jazz hang.

    All I know, with absolute certainty, is that as a guy who often wants to go hear jazz music played really well in this town, the wait between sessions is far, far shorter than ever before, whether I want to hear heavies from out of town or the best of the locals.

  4. Thanks for mentioning the Fort Worth Library’s 3rd Thursday Jazz Series. We had a great time presenting the Fred Hersch Trio back in 2011. It smoked!

    Our mission is to balance the performances by hosting a blend of internationally touring acts and local musicians. The area is fortunate to have so, so many talented performers. It’s truly an embarrassment of riches, but I wish there were more quality venues at which to showcase their creativity, passion and talent.

    Please join us May 15, 2014, as we kick off our fifth season with a free performance by Nicholas Payton.

    Shannon was cool cat and made outrageous, fascinating music. He will be missed. For several years, Jazz by the Boulevard (Donna VanNess) tried to get him to perform but they just couldn’t agree on terms. That should go down as a FW tragedy. …