Dennis Mackrel

Dennis Mackrel (born April 3, 1962) is an American jazz drummer, composer, and arranger who was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

Dennis Mackrel
Mackrel performing in Aarhus Denmark 2014
Mackrel performing in Aarhus Denmark 2014
Background information
Born (1962-04-03) April 3, 1962 (age 59)
Omaha, Nebraska
Associated actsVanguard Jazz Orchestra, Count Basie Orchestra


The son of two jazz enthusiasts, Mackrel started playing drums at age two 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 on the personal recommendation of singer Joe Williams, Mackrel joined the Count Basie Orchestra where he would remain until December 1987.[1][2] He was the last drummer of that orchestra to be personally hired by Count Basie himself.[3]

After leaving the Basie Orchestra, 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 many other big bands and small groups including the Hank Jones Trio, the American Jazz Orchestra, the Carla Bley Big Band, Buck Clayton's Swing Band, the George Shearing Quintet and the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band. In September 2010, he returned to the Count Basie Orchestra after the retirement of trombonist Bill Hughes.[3] and served as the orchestra's leader and chief conductor until 2013 and on November 7, 2015, he was named chief conductor of the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw which is based in Amsterdam, Holland.

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, the RIAS Big Band of Berlin.[2] the United States Military Academy at West Point's Jazz Knights Big Band, the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and the Temple University Jazz Ensemble.

As an experienced jazz educator who conducts master classes, seminars and workshops throughout Europe, Asia, Canada and the United States, Mackrel has performed with the jazz ensembles of numerous colleges and high schools including the Eastman School of Music, Slippery Rock University, the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, Northern Illinois University, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, the University of Minnesota, Morris, New Trier High School, Sun Prairie High School, Western Illinois University, Southern Utah University, the Royal Conservatory of Music in Aarhus, Denmark, the University of Florida, Miami, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Elmhurst College, Michigan State University and many others. He is currently a professor at Queens College in Flushing, New York.


As sidemanEdit

With Count Basie

  • Me and You (Pablo, 1983)
  • 88 Basie Street (Pablo, 1984)
  • Fancy Pants (Pablo, 1986)
  • Long Live the Chief (Denon, 1986)

With Hank Jones

  • With the Meridian String Quartet (LRC, 1991)
  • Favors (Verve, 1997)
  • For My Father (Justin Time, 2005)

With Randy Sandke

  • Calling All Cats (Concord Jazz, 1996)
  • Inside Out (Nagel Heyer, 2002)
  • Outside in (Evening Star, 2005)
  • Trumpet After Dark (Evening Star, 2005)

With George Shearing

  • That Shearing Sound (Telarc, 1994)
  • Christmas with the George Shearing Quintet (Telarc, 1998)
  • Back to Birdland (Telarc, 2001)

With others

  • Howard Alden, Snowy Morning Blues (Concord Jazz, 1990)
  • American Jazz Orchestra, The Music of Jimmie Lunceford (MusicMasters, 1991)
  • Keter Betts, Live at the East Coast Jazz Festival (Keter Betts Music, 2000)
  • Keter Betts, Pinky's Waltz (Jazzmont, 2002)
  • Carla Bley, Big Band Theory (WATT, 1993)
  • Carla Bley, Goes to Church (WATT, 1996)
  • Canadian Brass, Noel (RCA Victor, 1994)
  • Bill Charlap, Souvenir (Criss Cross, 1995)
  • Buck Clayton, Swings the Village (Nagel Heyer, 2002)
  • Chris Connor, Haunted Heart (HighNote, 2001)
  • Chris Connor, I Walk with Music (HighNote, 2002)
  • Todd Coolman, Collectables (Sunnyside, 2016)
  • Michael Davis, Absolute Trombone (Hip-Bone Music, 1997)
  • Michael Davis, Absolute Trombone II (Hip-Bone Music, 2007)
  • Joey DeFrancesco, Where Were You? (Columbia, 1990)
  • Brett Eldredge, Glow (Atlantic, 2018)
  • Clare Fischer, Tjaderama (Trend, 1988)
  • Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Big Band, Things to Come (MCG, 2002)
  • Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, Dizzy's Business (MCG, 2006)
  • David Horler, Rolling Down 7th (Mons, 2006)
  • Jane Horrocks, The Further Adventures of Little Voice (Liberty, 2000)
  • Jay Leonhart, Two Lane Highways (Kado, 1992)
  • Denise Jannah, I Was Born in Love with You (Blue Note, 1995)
  • Thad Jones, Way-Out Basie (Philips, 1987)
  • Chaka Khan, Classikhan (AGU/Earthsong/Sanctuary Urban, 2004)
  • Kluvers Big Band, Better Believe It (Music Mecca, 2001)
  • Kluvers Big Band, Hot House Thilo Meets Mackrel (Stunt, 2008)
  • Viktor Lazlo, Viktor Lazlo (Polydor, 1987)
  • Mel Lewis, To You: A Tribute to Mel Lewis (Musicmasters, 1991)
  • Kirk MacDonald, Symmetry (Addo, 2013)
  • Kevin Mahogany, Pussy Cat Dues the Music of Charles Mingus (Enja, 2000)
  • Grover Mitchell, Hip Shakin (Ken Music, 1990)
  • Grover Mitchell, On Track (Quixotic, 1997)
  • Michael Moriarty, Live at Fat Tuesday's (DRG, 1992)
  • Bucky Pizzarelli, Plays the Music of Jerome Kern (LRC, 2006)
  • John Pizzarelli, Our Love Is Here to Stay (RCA/BMG, 1997)
  • John Pizzarelli, The Rare Delight of You (Telarc, 2002)
  • Scott Robinson, Bronze Nemesis (Doc-Tone, 2012)
  • Maria Schneider, Evanescence (Enja, 1994)
  • Diane Schuur, Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra (GRP, 1987)
  • Don Sebesky, I Remember Bill (RCA Victor, 1998)
  • Don Sebesky, Joyful Noise (RCA Victor, 1999)
  • Carol Sloane, The Songs Ella & Louis Sang (Concord Jazz, 1997)
  • Carol Sloane, Carol Sloane (Concord Jazz, 2001)
  • Marvin Stamm & Mike Holober, Live at Maureen's Jazz Cellar (Big Miles Music, 2020)
  • Byron Stripling, Byron, Get One Free... (Nagel Heyer, 2001)
  • Byron Stripling, Stripling Now! (Nagel Heyer, 1999)
  • Grady Tate, Grady Tate Sings TNT (Milestone, 1991)
  • Grady Tate, From the Heart (Half Note, 2006)
  • Caterina Valente, Caterina Valente '86 & the Count Basie Orchestra (Global, 1986)
  • Jack Walrath, Get Hit in Your Soul (ACT, 2000)
  • Frank Wess, Entre Nous (Concord Jazz, 1991)
  • Joe Williams, That Holiday Feelin (Verve, 1990)


  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. Archived from the original on 2011-11-06. 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. Archived from the original on 2010-09-08. 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.

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