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Artist Profiles

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

By Published: June 9, 2006

In the autobiographical liner notes of Masakowski's tribute album simply entitled For Joe (Pass), Masakowski clearly delineates the moment that Pass and Mackie changed his life—"Some twenty-plus years ago, Hank Mackie gave one of his hot-shot, know-it-all guitar students a record that would have a humbling and seemingly life-altering affect! Well, I was that student, and the record was For Django by Joe Pass," he writes. Masakowski performs two original compositions that represent literal recognitions of his idol, and the cascading melody chords of "Pass Presence" and the bluesy dissonance of "I'll Pass" demonstrate reverence to the virtuoso and an impeccably played and heart-felt homage to his hero.

Bill Solley was trained classically and redirected toward jazz. He crosses genres seamlessly as he provides the magnificent complement for vocalist Kim Prevost, his wife and musical partner. The duo exhibits stunning chemistry musically and otherwise, an observation apparently shared by the BET Network when they honored Prevost and Solley with their 1999 Jazz Discovery Vocalist award, the first time the award was given to a duo.

The ability of the pair to devise fresh and innovative arrangements of songs that have been overworked by the masses is their forte. Solley struts a 7-string Foster guitar, a consistent preference of the New Orleans jazz player. His rhythmic and vibrant chordal accompaniments soften appropriately when Prevost invokes her haunting and earthy lower register tones that are reminiscent of Anita Baker or Cassandra Wilson, with a playful avidity.

In the liner notes of the Prevost/Solley album I Would Give All My Love, author Bill Milkowski states, "For some inexplicable reason, there seems to be an unusually high concentration of amazing guitarists in New Orleans." Perhaps this essay will provide clarification for such ruminations. The jazz guitar legacy emanating from and based in the New Orleans area is thriving, and Hank Mackie has his fingerprints all over it.

For roughly the last dozen years, Mackie has continued to teach at a small guitar shop in the suburb of New Orleans known as Metairie, Todd's Express Music. What has Hank Mackie meant to the evolution of jazz guitar and to the considerable history of jazz in New Orleans? Ted Ludwig offered his endearing assessment, "He's the father of jazz guitar in New Orleans." While the rightful owner of that title would appropriately come from the early part of the 20th century and the pioneering generation of New Orleans jazz, when Johnny St. Cyr, Lonnie Johnson, and others were establishing the 6-string as a jazz staple, one can understand the enthusiasm with which Ludwig and his colleagues speak of their mentor.

In a city so universally recognized for breeding talented wind instrument virtuosity, guitar could easily have become the forgotten instrument in the evolution of New Orleans jazz. Had there not been someone on the music scene over the last 4 decades with a sincere appreciation for the instrument, a style with its roots grounded in guitarists of the previous generation, and the skills and passion for delivering those lessons to eager and youthful students, such an outcome might have been inevitable. As Mooney said of Mackie, "I don't think I know anybody that came up playing jazz guitar (for a span of roughly 30 years) in New Orleans that didn't study with him."

Thanks to Hank Mackie's guiding hands, New Orleans will continue to be a World of Strings.

(Certain biographical information for this article was obtained from artist websites— (deGruy), the University of New Orleans (Masakowski, Ludwig), (Solley), and (Mooney)).

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