DeKALB — The nationally-renowned Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of professor Ron Carter, will present a free concert with special guest artist, drummer Dennis Mackrel, at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15 in the Duke Ellington Ballroom in the Holmes Student Center on the campus of NIU. Saxophonist Geof Bradfield, new to the School of Music faculty, will join the band.
Since June 1998, the jazz studies program at NIU has been rated one of the top 10 graduate jazz programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report. The program won significant recognition from Downbeat Magazine’s Student Recognition Awards, capturing more than 10 Outstanding Performance Awards. Jazz bands from NIU have received awards at several major jazz festivals.
Mackrel began playing the drums when he was 2. He graduated from Clark High School in Las Vegas and attended the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
He is the recipient of numerous awards, including “Who’s Who in Music,” two National Endowment For The Arts grants for composition and “Outstanding Alumni” from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
While attending UNLV, he was a member of the acclaimed UNLV Jazz Ensemble, where his drumming and arranging skills caught the attention of vocalist Joe Williams.
At age 19, he moved to New York City and landed a gig as a drummer on Broadway. In 1983, Mackrel joined the Count Basie Orchestra on the personal recommendation of Williams. He was the youngest member of the orchestra and the last drummer to be hired by Basie personally.
Mackrel stayed with the band until December 1987. After leaving the orchestra, he returned to New York to become the drummer of choice for a number of large ensembles including The American Jazz Orchestra, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and his own band, The Manhattan Symphony Jazz Orchestra.