World-class jazz drummer, composer, arranger and bandleader Dennis Mackrel is the Department of Music’s 2017 Jazz-Artist-in-Residence. Mackrel is at the Keele campus until Jan. 26 to deliver master classes on composition and improvisation and will direct an open rehearsal with the York University Jazz Orchestra.
The public will have a chance to see Mackrel in performance as the featured artist in the Music Department’s Jazz @ Midday series. On Thursday, Jan. 26 at 12:30pm, Mackrel will lead a jam session with York University jazz faculty in the Martin Family Lounge, Room 219 Accolade East Building, Keele campus. Admission is free and all are welcome.
Mackrel began playing the drums when he was two years old and launched his professional career at the age of 10. While a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he performed at venues such as the Imperial Palace and the Tropicana, where his drumming and arranging skills caught the attention of jazz vocalist Joe Williams.
Mackrel joined the Count Basie Orchestra on Williams’ recommendation in 1983, becoming the youngest member of the orchestra and the last drummer to be personally hired by Basie. After Basie’s death, he continued performing with the orchestra until 1987 under the leadership of Eric Dixon, Thad Jones and Frank Foster, and several of his compositions were recorded by the band.
Mackrel went on to become the drummer of choice for many other leading ensembles, including the American Jazz Orchestra, the Carla Bley Big Band, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Buck Clayton’s Swing Band, the George Shearing Quintet and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. His transition from sideman to leader continued with frequent guest appearances as a conductor, arranger and soloist for European ensembles such as the Kluvers Big Band in Aarhus and Danish Radio Big Band in Copenhagen, Denmark and the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany. In fall 2010, he returned to the Count Basie Orchestra, serving as leader and chief conductor until 2013. He was appointed chief conductor of the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 2015.
Mackrel’s commissioned works have been recorded by the Jazz Knights Big Band of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Temple University Jazz Ensemble, Columbus Jazz Orchestra, and the McCoy Tyner Big Band, whose Grammy-winning CDs The Turning Point and Journey include several of his arrangements.
Mackrel conducts master classes, seminars and workshops throughout Europe, Asia and North America. As an educator, his appointments include guest professor at the Royal Conservatory in Aarhus, Denmark, and Visiting Artist in Jazz Studies at the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY. He is currently a professor at Queens College in Flushing, NY, and a member of the jazz faculty at the Birch Creek Summer Jazz Camp in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin and the Skidmore Jazz Institute in Saratoga Springs, NY.
Mackrel’s residency is made possible through an endowment established at York in 2008 by the Government of Ontario in honour of legendary Canadian jazz artist Oscar Peterson. The endowment also supports the Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance at York and the Oscar Peterson Scholarship in Jazz Performance, a prestigious annual entrance award that provides $40,000 over four years to an incoming music student.