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Ndugu Chancler graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills with a degree in music education. By then he had already performed with the Gerald Wilson Big Band, Herbie Hancock, and recorded with Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Bobby Hutcherson, among many others.
His playing can be heard on many hit records including Michael Jackson‘s “Billie Jean“. He has also worked with Stanley Clarke, Jean-Luc Ponty, Donna Summer, George Duke, Patrice Rushen, Carlos Santana, Hubert Laws, The Crusaders, Frank Sinatra, Weather Report, Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock and John Lee Hooker. As a songwriter, Ndugu co-wrote hits including Santana’s “Dance Sister Dance,” George Duke’s ”Reach For It and “Let It Whip” for the Dazz Band. Along with his own solo recordings: Ndugu and the Chocolate Jam Co. and Ndugu Chancler. Ndugu has co-produced recordings for Santana, George Duke, The Crusaders, Joe Sample, Wilton Felder, Tina Turner, Ernie Watts and 1 + One, a group he co-leads with Patrice Rushen.
1. With fewer opportunities for music education in the public schools, where can young musicians turn to learn what they need for college?
NC – In outside music programs, after school programs, and in some areas some local music stores still have music lessons. You also have summer workshops and summer camps.
FOD – Do you think that’s enough?
NC – It can be enough. A lot of it depends on the motivation of the student because a lot of music education is based on seek and find, and I find that a lot of the students just don’t seek. The information is out there now. And there are opportunities for them to get it. A lot of places have Saturday programs but students don’t really buy into the whole concept. Part of that is because none of that is at school, so (students) don’t see the validity of it until it’s time for college auditions.
2. In what area do you see incoming students being the most under-prepared?
NC – Theory, fundamentals, and awareness of a lot of the music that is out there – especially outside of (the students) genre and time period.
3. In Your opinion, what’s the most important thing they don’t teach you in school?
NC – The drive to go out and put in the extra time and go the extra mile to become a great musician. It’s all extra credit. I tell all of my students that playing music is like playing on a basketball team. You go to practice, then you’ve got to practice away from practice. So it’s going that extra credit mile. Putting a lot of time in practicing, listening, and playing. They teach you to play. But they don’t teach you how to apply that to making a living.
FOD – When I was in school I wish they‘d had some class or even a seminar on handling money. No one ever talks about money. I think there’s a bias among the faculty against discussing ways to actually make a living.
NC – Right. In a lot of institutions people don’t keep up with the changes… They get stuck in academia and they don’t know what work is like out in the real world.
4. Have you seen students putting the new technology (ie: the internet, mp3s, social media) to good use, or is it a distraction?
NC – Some students put the technology to good use. Technology can be a good learning and practice tool, and some students are using it for that. Some are using it as a crutch not to apply themselves to their instrument. There are pros and cons both ways, but the technology itself has made a lot of the learning tools more accessible to the average student and that has made it easier for them to arrive at their goals.
5. What’s the obligation of a college or conservatory to the student, and the student to it?
NC – The obligation of the institution is to prepare the student and give him/her all the necessary tools in that particular area of expertise. The student’s obligation is to make sure he/she gets all of the necessary information and tools. A lot of times being absent, you miss certain things, and certain things are linked to other things. So it’s your obligation, whether you’re there every day or not, to make sure you get everything that’s offered. …Your obligation is to get the full benefit of the education, and the quality schools are going to make sure that information is there for you.
BONUS Q: Did you have any idea how huge Billie Jean was going to be?
NC – No. “Off the Wall” sold ten million, so we were hoping for three million more. We figured we’d be lucky to get 13 million.
FOD – Still, not to shabby.
NC – Multiply that times ten!