Dennis Mackrel

Dennis Mackrel

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Dennis Mackrel (born April 3, 1962, in Omaha, Nebraska) is an American jazz drummer, composer, and arranger. He is also known for his work as a bandleader and music educator. He is most notable for his associations with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra.

The son of two jazz enthusiasts, Mackrel started playing the drums at age two, bought his first drum set at age five, and began his professional career playing at a community theater at age ten. He attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, studying jazz under Frank Gagliardi, during which time he performed in venues such as the Imperial Palace and the Tropicana. In 1981, Mackrel moved to New York City and became a drummer with a Broadway theatre orchestra. Two years later, singer Joe Williams invited him to join the Count Basie Orchestra, where Mackrel would remain until December 1987.[1][2] He was the last drummer of that orchestra to be personally hired by Count Basie himself.[3]

Mackrel frequently performed as a substitute drummer in the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Shortly before Lewis died in February 1990, he announced that he wanted Mackrel to take his place as the regular drummer for the band, which soon changed its name to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.[4]

Mackrel later became the drummer for other big bands, including his own Manhattan Symphony Jazz Orchestra. In September 2010, he returned to the Count Basie Orchestra as its director after the retirement of trombonist Bill Hughes.[3]

As a composer and arranger, Mackrel has received a Grant for Composition from the National Endowment for the Arts (1983). He has written pieces for McCoy Tyner (on the Grammy-winning The Turning Point and Journey), the WDR Radio Big Band of Cologne, the Klüvers Big Band of Denmark, and the RIAS Big Band of Berlin.[2]


  1. ^ Stewart, Zan (2010-01-20). "Jazz drummer Dennis Mackerel with Manhattan Symphony Jazz Orchestra in Hackettstown". The Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey). Retrieved 2010-10-12.
  2. ^ a b "Dennis Mackrel". All About Jazz. 2008-10-15. Retrieved 2010-10-12.
  3. ^ a b "Bill Hughes, bandleader and director of the Legendary Count Basie Orchestra Announces Retirement" (Press release). Dawn Singh Publicity. 2010-09-07. Retrieved 2010-10-12.
  4. ^ Stewart, Zan (1990-02-14). "Dennis Mackrel to Fill Mel Lewis' Chair With Jazz Orchestra". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-12.