The nationally renowned Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of professor Ron Carter, will perform its fall concert at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, with special guest artist and drummer Dennis Mackrel.
Saxophonist Geof Bradfield, a new School of Music faculty member, will join the band for what promises to be a night of great music. The concert, held in the Duke Ellington Ballroom in the Holmes Student Center, is free and open to all.
Mackrel, a child prodigy, began playing the drums when he was 2.
He is the recipient of numerous awards, including “Who’s Who in Music,” a National Endowment for the Arts grant 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.
In 1981, at age 19, 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”.
Mackrel joined the Count Basie Orchestra in 1983 on the personal recommendation of Williams. He would become the youngest member of the orchestra and the last drummer to be hired by Basie personally.
He traveled extensively and worked alongside Basie until the bandleader died in April 1984. He continued with the orchestra under the direction of interim leader Eric Dixon followed by Thad Jones.
“I think Dennis is one of the finest young drummers I’ve ever heard,” Jones said. “He is extremely knowledgeable and he is also a very accomplished writer.”
After leaving the orchestra, Mackrel returned to NYC 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.
The NIU Jazz Ensemble continues to gain high critical acclaim.
From June 1998 to the present, 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, 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 prestigious 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.
Bradfield lived and worked for periods in New York, Los Angeles and Washington before settling in Chicago in 2004.
Along the way, he has been fortunate to work alongside many jazz luminaries and to perform throughout the United States, Europe, Russia, Africa and the Middle East.
He is featured on numerous recordings, including his critically acclaimed 2010 release “African Flowers,” which was named one of the Top 10 CDs of 2010 by the Los Angeles Times. His septet performed this 10-part suite in 2011 at Chicago’s Millennium Park to an audience of 8,000 as part of the celebrated series Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz.
Since completing his MFA at California Institute of the Arts, he has held positions at diverse colleges and universities as well as teaching master classes in composition, history and performance in the United States and abroad.
For more information, or to make reservations for large groups, contact Lynn Slater at [email protected] or (815) 753-1546.