Count Basie died in 1984, but his legacy continues to be heard in the world of jazz.
Dennis Mackrel was a 20-year-old drummer when Basie hired him in 1982.
"I was actually the last drummer he hired, and the youngest at the time," Mackrel said in a recent telephone interview with the Herald. "I remember being amazed that someone as famous as he was could be so down to earth. He was very patient with me, and I am so grateful for that."
Mackrel now leads the Count Basie Orchestra, which swings into the Tri-Cities on March 28 for a one-night performance in the Art Fuller Auditorium at Kennewick High School.
Tickets cost $20 to $45. Showtime is 7 p.m. Tickets at the door or in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com. Tickets purchased online are subject to a service charge.
The concert is made possible through a partnership between the Hanford and Kennewick high school music departments, under the guidance of band directors Kevin Swisher and Chris Newbury at Hanford High and Brent Steinert of Kennewick High.
"If I were asked to give the name of the band we most try to emulate in our school programs, it is most definitely the Basie Band," Swisher said. "Count Basie is one of the biggest reasons we have jazz programs in our schools today. Both Brent and I feel the effort is worth it because of the educational value to our students."
Mackrel, who turns 50 on April 3, was born in Nebraska and learned to love jazz as a youngster because his parents were jazz fans.
He studied jazz at the University of Nevada Las Vegas under the guidance of Frank Gagliardi and later performed at various Vegas casino showrooms. He moved to New York City in 1981 and was a drummer with a Broadway theater orchestra before joining the Basie Orchestra.
Mackrel said he looks forward to touring the Northwest because most of their recent tours have taken them to Europe.
"Even after being in service for 75 years, this band is always battle-ready for a tour," Mackrel said. "Mostly, we tour other parts of the world, so it's nice to do some performing at home."
Mackrel is the fifth to head Basie's band since the Count's death. Mackrel left the group in 1987 to play drums with the Mel Lewis Orchestra, which later changed its name to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. He returned to the Count Basie Orchestra after bandleader Bill Hughes retired in 2010.
He remembers Basie as one of the kindest men he knew, as well an exceptional musician and person.
"He inspired so many musicians," Mackrel said. "No matter how many conductors have come and gone since Basie died, each one has kept the music on the same path as he did.
"We'll be playing many of Basie's familiar tunes, as well as some new stuff," Mackrel added. "We like to think of ourselves as the keepers of a flame -- a cultural repository, if you will, for Count Basie's legacy."
After their Tri-City gig, the orchestra performs at famed Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle on March 29-April 2.
*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org