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Artist Profiles

Hank Mackie: "Pass"-ing Jazz Guitar to a New Generation

By Published: June 9, 2006

"Hank was always a nuts and bolts (the exact term Mooney used) kind of a teacher. If you took what Hank gave you and took it to a job, it worked." Ludwig adds, "If I could sum it up with one sentence, he got in the trenches with the student," noting the propensity of some teachers to demonstrate a condescending attitude toward students. "He didn't sit up there on a higher level, look down at you and say OK, this is the thing you need to learn to get up here. He came down to your level and he brought you up. A lot of teachers shoot things at you—If you get it, you get it, if you don't, you don't," he added.

"Hank never was afraid to tell you things more than one time," says Ludwig. "When Hank was teaching, he let go of the fact that he was a great player. Hank always encouraged his better students to come out and sit in wherever he was playing," he added, offering further evidence of Mackie's self-assuredness and humility.

Ludwig also discussed Mackie's approach to assessing his students and providing a customized lesson plan. "Another thing that was truly amazing about Hank—All you had to do was play one song and he could find all of your weaknesses," said Ludwig. "He didn't just have a set curriculum that everybody worked on. He knew that every individual had strengths and weaknesses. He had a plan in mind to get you from point A to point B."

Mooney, Ludwig, and Duke need only look at the brilliance of the Mackie disciples that have gone before them to get a sense of the solidity of their foundation.

In mentoring innovator extraordinaire Phil deGruy, Mackie demonstrated his enthusiasm for the explorative nature of the exceptional musician. After studying briefly with legendary guitarist's guitarist Lenny Breau in the late 70's and early 80's, deGruy gained an appreciation for the use of guitar harmonics. At Mackie's suggestion, Phil commissioned luthier Jimmy Foster to create his first "Guitarp," a modified guitar instrument that employs 10 additional strings to create the harp-like sound and a unique hybrid of an instrument (deGruy's current version of the Guitarp was created by Ralph Novak). Listeners are blown away not only by the distinctive nature of the sounds that this instrument is capable of producing, but also of deGruy's mastery of it, as I was 20 years ago when I first heard Phil live.

If they held an Olympic competition for guitarists, deGruy would undoubtedly be the Decathlon champion. His skill sets are as diverse as his repertoire and his influences. His unique instrument serves as his playground, as he frolics through the land of arpeggios, bass lines, harmonics, picking, endless chord voicings, and an occasional single-note run with equal precision and dexterity. If accused of overstating deGruy's talents, I would simply offer the nearly nine minute "Chain Lightning/Wizard of Oz Medley" from his Hello Dali album that traverses the bluesy Steely Dan tune with nearly the entire soundtrack of the classic musical fantasy film as exhibit "A" in my defense.

Professional guitar players who hear Phil for the first time are often astounded by the relative anonymity of such a talent, but then again, Phil's exceptional skills and sound defy classification or apt description. The long overdue accolades are beginning to make deGruy less of an unknown, as his talents have caught the eye (and ear) of Stevie Vai, Charlie Hunter, and of publications such as Guitar Player, Downbeat, and JazzTimes. His latest critically acclaimed Just Duet CD attracted a host of talented and diverse players, including Mackie, Masakowski, and Hunter. As a result, deGruy is beginning to lose his grip on the title of "best kept secret in the jazz guitarist world."

Masakowski is best known for both his solo work and with the ensemble Astral Project. He studied at the Berklee College of Music and currently serves as an Associate Professor of Music at UNO. His bio lays out his impressive list of accomplishments. Masakowski has recorded several CD's as a solo artist and with Astral Project, and has been invited to perform on dozens of others. Two of his solo CD's were recorded for the prestigious Blue Note label, including Direct AXEcess, which his students speak of with great awe and admiration. A tour with vocalist Dianne Reeves included a Carnegie Hall performance. Mackie has clearly designated Masakowski as the heir to the throne of the "teacher you need to study with" title for directing promising jazz guitar prodigies in New Orleans. New Orleans jazz guitarists influenced by Mackie speak of Masakowski's playing, instruction, and listening skills with similar affinity.

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