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Drummer to play with NIU Jazz Ensemble

Published: Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

The nationally renowned Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of professor Ron Carter, will perform with special guest artist, drummer Dennis Mackrel, at 8 p.m. Nov. 15 in the Duke Ellington Ballroom in the Holmes Student Center.

New School of Music faculty member, saxophonist Geof Bradfield, will join the band. The concert is free and open to the public.

Since June 1998, the Jazz Studies Program at NIU has been rated as one of the top 10 graduate jazz programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, the NIU Jazz Studies has won significant recognition from Downbeat Magazine’s Student Recognition Awards, capturing more than 10 Outstanding Performance Awards.

Jazz bands from NIU have received Outstanding Performance Awards at several major jazz festivals, including the Notre Dame, Elmhurst and Eau Claire Collegiate Jazz Festivals. The Graduate Jazz Combo already has received international acclaim performing at the IAJE Conference in Toronto, Canada, the JVC Jazz Festival in New York and the Lima Peru Jazz Festival in Lima, Peru.

Drummer, composer and arranger Dennis Mackrel, a child prodigy, 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.

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. In 1981, at 19 years of age, Mackrel moved to New York City and landed a gig as a drummer on Broadway. His Broadway credits include “The First” and “A Chorus Line.”

In January 1983, Mackrel joined the Count Basie Orchestra. He was the youngest member of the orchestra and the last drummer to be hired by Basie personally. Mackrel traveled extensively and worked alongside Basie until his death in April 1984. He continued with the orchestra under the direction of interim leader Eric Dixon followed by Thad Jones.

In 1985, the Count Basie Orchestra recorded one of Mackrel’s compositions titled “And That’s That.” He stayed with the band until December 1987. His composition “Bus Dust” was included on the orchestra’s CD “Long Live The Chief.”

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 Carla Bley Big Band, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, The Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band and his own band, The Manhattan Symphony Jazz Orchestra.

For more information or reservations for large groups, contact Lynn Slater at or 815-753-1546.

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