Jazz Ensemble Hosts Conversation with Count Basie Drummer/Leader

Dennis Mackrel
Saturday, February 20, 2021
Dennis Mackrel joined the jazz class via Zoom to talk about his career.

Drummer, composer/arranger, band leader, and educator Dennis Mackrel joined the UNC Charlotte Jazz Ensemble class virtually on February 18 to talk about his career and music. Mackrel was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra from 1983 to 1987, returning to the band as its conductor from 2010 to 2013. He has served as the drummer for the American Jazz Orchestra, Mel Lewis Orchestra/Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band and has performed with artists such as Quincy Jones, Tony Bennett, Hank Jones, and George Shearing. He is currently a professor at Queens College in Flushing, NY

“I first saw Dennis play with Count Basie's band in 1986 and have followed his career since,” said Dr. Will Campbell, director of the Jazz Ensemble. “I was fortunate to get to play with him when he subbed on a few gigs with Harry Connick, Jr.

During his visit with the class, students asked questions about jazz arranging, the influential people in his life that are not musicians, and the most cherished memories in his career.

“Dennis spoke a lot about his time in Count Basie's band and his relationships with Basie, Thad Jones, and Frank Foster, among others,” Campbell said. “He also spent time discussing the importance of professionalism and mostly being a good person who is humble and agreeable. Dennis is an incredibly positive and inspiring man.”

As a result of the pandemic, College of Arts + Architecture classes have hosted a variety of stellar guest artists via Zoom. Also on February 18, Kevin Metzger-Timson, casting director for Tara Rubin Casting, joined the musical theatre class, for example, and award-winning composer and actor Grace McLean (Broadway's The Great Comet, In the Green) will join the musical theatre class on April 6.