Hank Mackie: "Pass"-ing Jazz Guitar to a New Generation
I had the pleasure of speaking to a couple of Mackie's younger protégés recently. At the age of 25 and recently relocated to New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Davy Mooney is still in the process of establishing himself in the jazz world, yet he's built a great foundation. He recently placed third in the prestigious Thelonius Monk guitar competition in Washington, D.C., which was judged by an impressive panel of guitar giants including Stanley Jordan, John Pizzarelli, Pat Martino, and Bill Frisell. His journey included instruction under Mackie, at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), and in the University of New Orleans (UNO) jazz guitar combo under the direction of one of Mackie's most accomplished students, Steve Masakowskia music instruction "trifecta" that defines the consummate roadmap for jazz guitar supremacy in New Orleans.
THE "DE-MYSTIFICATION" OF JAZZ GUITAR
The first Virtuoso album (there were actually 4 separate albums and a live recording in the Virtuoso series) from Joe Pass is frequently referenced as the work that exemplifies how Joe Pass took jazz guitar to a new level. It's the album entitled, For Django, Joe's tribute to "gypsy jazz" master Django Reinhardt however, that Mackie passed to his promising students and that Mooney and others point to as the ultimate jazz guitar piece. "It's the definitive jazz guitar album. It's got everything," says Mooney.
In terms of Mackie's influence, he adds, "He can really break things down and get at the nuts and bolts of things. Jazz can be kind of mysterious. He just sort of demystified the whole thing. It's sort of like if you do what he says, you're going to sound good," says Mooney, echoing Laughlin's sentiments regarding Mackie's ability to simplify seemingly complex theories, a universal attribute of great educators.
On a more conceptual level, Mooney discussed Mackie's influence as well. "There are some guys that just kind of play a bunch of licks, like plug lick in here," says Mooney when describing the way Mackie discussed guitar players and their approach, "And other guys that play on a deeper level like Joe Pass and Tal Farlow." Mooney added that when Mackie discussed great players, he clearly conveyed to him that making that distinction was critical.
Mooney has released two CD's, 2002's In This Balance of Time, and the sequel one year later, Luckless Pedestrian. Both recordings showcased all original material, and he has his sights set on another CD of the same. Mooney also gained notoriety previously as a member of The Hot Club of New Orleans, a local band in the mold of the Reinhardt/Grappelli group of the late-30's that took France by storm. Todd Duke, another student of Mackie covered guitar duties in tandem with Mooney for the dynamic combo.
The affectionate manner in which Ted Ludwig speaks of Mackie's influence clearly demonstrates that Hank's guidance transcended music and affected him on a more personal level. Ludwig was the inaugural winner of the ASCAP/Louis Armstrong Foundation scholarship, which helped fund his graduate work at the University of New Orleans (UNO). He also provides guitar instruction for Mel Bay Publications. Ted is a native of St. Bernard parish which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and has relocated to Little Rock, AR, where he continues to play and teach frequently.
Ludwig sought Mackie for instruction in 1994 at the age of 20 at the suggestion of several musician friends. "Hank saved my life musically," says Ludwig. It was Mackie who persuaded Ted to stay in New Orleans and learn from the fraternity of young jazz guitarists that were feeding off each other's passion. "I knew I wanted to be a player, but I didn't know what direction to take. Hank helped me to clarify those things," he added.
Ludwig noted Joe Pass (and the aforementioned For Django album), Tal Farlow, Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, Howard Roberts, and Pat Martino as influences that Mackie offered for his audible consumption, a musical diet that redirected him from rock and fusion toward jazz. "When he let me hear Joe Pass playing on the John Lewis tune 'Django,' I couldn't believe it," says Ludwig, recalling a breakthrough moment that turned him on to jazz. "I just said Oh, my God, this is it. This is what it's about, right here." He added that Mackie had hundreds of solos transcribed from when he was a kid that he shared with him.