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Jimmy Jackson, the D.C.-based jazz drummer who was best known by his nickname “Junebug,” died of congestive heart failure at about 1 a.m. today at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. Ten days earlier, he had turned 55.
Jackson had struggled recently with his health. “We played with him last two thursdays ago [at HR-57’s weekly jam session], and he wasnt feeling well,” says bassist Mark Saltman. He was admitted to the hospital this past week, and unsuccessfully underwent surgery Friday.
A self-taught instrumentalist, Jackson first picked up the drumsticks at 11, picking out the lick to James Brown‘s “Cold Sweat” at his grandmother’s house in Kalamazoo, Mich. He learned to play as a funk drummer, but moved into jazz upon encountering organist Jimmy Smith. Jackson ended up in Smith’s touring band for the last 21 years of the organist’s life. He spent time living in Atlanta and in Los Angeles before settling in Washington and becoming the house drummer at the HR-57 jazz club.
Jackson was a beloved figure in local and jazz and beyond. He was known for his omnipresent sense of humor and easy way with a one-liner; on the bandstand, Jackson had a “STFU” sign he would hold up for noisy audiences. Asked about his status as HR-57’s house drummer in 2010, Jackson corrected this writer: “I’m house clown if I’m anything,” he said.
“He had a fearless spirit, and he would always bring his own individuality no matter who was around him,” says pianist William Knowles. “He was never intimidated by anyone, because he would always bring himself and that was worth something.”
Jackson also had an unshakeable sense of swing behind the kit. “Jimmy Smith used to say, Can you make the music dance? and thats what Bug did, and why he played with him for 21 years,” says Knowles.
“He just had that groove thing, and knew how to come up with exactly what the music needed,” says Saltman. “He was swingin’ to the end.”
He also made the music sing; Jackson was an occasional vocalist with a warm, surprisingly smooth voice that brought a sense of merriment.
A tribute to Jackson at HR-57 is being planned.
He is survived by two sons and his wife, Chandra.