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Drummer Mackrel swings into BGSU PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor   
Thursday, 06 February 2014 10:05
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Drummer Dennis Mackrel will perform with his trio Monday at BGSU. (Photo provided by dennismackrelmusic.com)
Jazz drummer Dennis Mackrel attended the finest swing finishing school.
When Mackrel was 21, Count Basie added the youngster to his famed rhythm section.
He was the youngest  member of the orchestra, and the last drummer hired by Basie himself, who died 15 months later.
Mackrel got "a pretty good picture" of what it meant to swing, the drummer said with obvious understatement during a recent telephone interview..
The lessons learned from Basie and other jazz masters has carried him through the intervening three decades as he's built a career of one of the top drummers in music.
What he learned from the likes of pianists George Shearing and Hank Jones and bandleader and composer Thad Jones  is that no matter how famous a musician is, the fundamentals still matter.
"Even though it looked effortless, they all paid their dues, they all worked hard, they all had that love of music where they wouldn't give up," he said.
Though they may be viewed by fans as "larger than life," Mackrel said,  "they were all such down to earth people."
Basie in his later years even when he was dogged by illness was "always happy and smiling," the drummer said.  "He just loved to go out on the road because he loved to play." As with so many older musicians  he understood "music is a gift. To be able to play is a privilege."
Mackrel will share the lessons learned in career when he visits Bowling Green State University Monday, both to work with students and to perform a free concert at 8 p.m. in Bryan Recital Hall in the Moore Musical Arts Center.
His visit is part of a Midwest tour of colleges with a trio that includes pianist Reggie Thomas and bassist Jeff Campbell. Like Mackrel, who teaches at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, they are educators as well as musicians. Campbell directs the jazz program at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY and Thomas teaches piano at Michigan State. They are all on the faculty of the Birch Creek Summer Jazz Camp in Wisconsin. David Bixler, the director of Jazz Studies at BGSU, also teaches there, and that provided the connection that led to the BGSU engagement.
Mackrel said what students need to know hasn't changed since he was coming up, including attending the University of Nevada Las Vegas, before leaving to go on the road with singer Joe Williams.
"The basics are still the same," he said. "You still  have to be extremely proficient on your instrument, you still have to have a great deal of style and understand all types of music."
His father was in the Air Force so Mackrel grew up on the move. Each place he moved had a radio station that featured a different kind of music, and he loved it all.  He played drums since he was 2, and first professionally when he performed for a production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."
"I never grew up with the intention of being a jazz  musician," he said. "I wanted to be a professional musician because I just loved playing music."
That continues. "I'm always happy when the phone rings because I know some fun's going to happen."
Early in his career, people called because they needed a drummer. Now they call because  "they know what I'm going to bring it to the table. They also know I'm going to do my homework and know what they want and that I'm going to give it to them."
As a leader he's just as accommodating. "I don't feel like I'm leading this trio," he said. Campbell and Thomas are such "great and complete" musicians that "all I have to do is show up and they'll take care of business."
"If I have a strong pianist I really draw from where he wants to go and he's going to take me to a good place," Mackrel said. "My function in the trio is really to make sure they're featured and respected in the way they deserve. I just want to make sure they get the time and space they deserve."
 

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