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Mackay was born in Syracuse, New York. He attended Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut from 1950 to 1954, where he was the first blind student to graduate. He then attended Boston University from 1956 to 1958, where he studied with Margaret Charloff. Mackay also studied with Lennie Tristano in New York City, then at the Lenox School of Jazz where he studied with Bill Evans, and lastly at The Hartford School of Music where he studied with Asher Zlotnik.In the mid-1960s, Mackay joined the Hindustani Jazz Sextet with Don Ellis, Harihar Rao, who played sitar and tabla, vibraphonist Emil Richards, drummer Steve Bohannon, bassists Chuck Domanico and Ray Neapolitan. The band performed mainly original compositions which had titles like "Sweet Nineteen", "Turks Works", and "Bombay Bossa Nova". Mackay also played with the Don Ellis Orchestra in the mid-1960s. The Don Ellis Orchestra was distinguished by its unusual instrumentation (which in its early days had up to three bassists and three drummers), incorporated Indian musical elements into modern big-band writing, and different time signatures such as 5/4, 7/8, and 9/4, and more complex rhythmic cycles like 19/4 and 27/16 and its occasionally wacky humor (highlighted by an excess of false endings) and an openness towards using rock rhythms. In 1966, the Don Ellis Orchestra earned a place at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Following this successful breakthrough performance, the band performed at the Pacific Jazz Festival in October 1966, and at Shelly's Manne Hole in March 1967, releasing segments of each on 1967s Live in 3 2/3 4 Time (Pacific Jazz).In the late-1960s, Mackay and Vicky Hamilton formed a duo and produced three recordings together. The albums include sunshine pop and the groovy side of jazz in many odd time signatures. The duo sings together on most of their tracks, with a mixed male/female vocal approach. Mackay plays Fender Rhodes and piano on the albums. The tunes are mostly originals penned by the pair, and instrumentation on the record includes flute and saxes from Ira Schulman and guitar from Joe Pass.In the mid-1970s, Dave Mackay, Bill Henderson, and Joyce Collins formed a unique trio which toured the northwest and gained favorable reviews. The trio recorded two Grammy nominated albums for Discovery: Street of Dreams (1980) and Johnny Mercer Tribute. In 1981, Mackay, Henderson, and Collins performed their music on the television show "Ad Lib", hosted by composer and pianist Phil Moore.In the late-1980s, Dave Mackay, Lori Bell, and Ron Satterfield formed the group "Interplay". Their first album titled Interplay was selected on the Grammy ballot in four categories, including Best Instrumental Composition; Dave Mackay – (Joyful), Best Instrumental Solo; Dave Mackay – (Joyful), and best Jazz Instrumental Performance of a Group; "Interplay". The group's second album is titled Dave Mackay and Interplay, Live at the New York Grill. In the 1990s, Dave Mackay teamed up with Stephanie Haynes. The duo recorded a CD called Two On A Swing for Why Not Records. On their CD, Mackay is sometimes only barely hinting at the more conventional chords to the standards with hair-raising accompaniment. The interplay between voice and piano on "Easy to Love" and the witty "Everything But You" are high points on this very satisfying and sometimes unpredictable CD.In the 2000s Mackay teamed up with John Giannelli on bass and Joe Correro on drums performing Bill Evans tunes in a celebration of the Life and Music of bassist Scott LaFaro. The trio recorded one of the shows at Giannelli Square. In the 2000s, Mackay also teamed up with bassist Kenny Wild and singer Tierney Sutton performing at the LA Jazz Club Monteleons. Typical set included the songs I Can't Get Started, Evergreen, Spring Is Here, Cherokee, It Never Entered My Mind, Moon and Sand, Only the Lonely, Blue Skies, I've Never Been in Love Before, Summer Me, Winter Me, and With Every Breath I Take. The Jazz critic Roger Crane described the music as "sounds of surprise".In the 2010s, Dave teamed up with singer Miki Purnell, Tamir Hendelman, Lori Bell, Joey Carano, Bob Magnusson, Kevin Cox, and Tony Aros. The team recorded the album "Swingin' to the Sea" Mackay has also performed with Serge Chaloff, Sonny Stitt, Bob Wilber, Bobby Hackett, Jim Hall, Don Ellis, Emil Richards, Shelly Manne, Chet Baker, Joe Pass, Warne Marsh, Kai Winding, Stephanie Haynes, and Tierney Sutton at some of the top Jazz clubs in the country including, Boston's Storeyville and Jazz Workshop, New York's Left Bank and Village Vanguard, and Chicago's Mr. Kelly's, Shelly's Manne Hole, The Lighthouse, Donte's Jazz Supper Club, and the Samoa House.Mackay's original compositions include "Love Will Win", "Melissa", "Hands", "Joyful", "Blues for Polly-O", "Three for Five", "Blessings and Free", Samba For Vicky", "Now" and "Here". "Now" and "Here" were later recorded by Cal Tjader, and "Samba For Vicky" was later recorded by the Baja Marimba Band. In addition Dave co-wrote "Like Me", "Peek-A-Boo" and "Will-O-The-Wisp". Mackay also wrote a majority of the music (with lyricist Barbara Schill) for a hit stage musical comedy entitled "Is It Just Me, Or Is It Hot In Here?" (music by Dave Mackay & Barbara Schill; book & lyrics by Barbara Schill). It appeared to sold out audiences (1995–1998) first at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, then CBS Studio Center in Burbank, the Odyssey Theatre and Century City Playhouse.Over the years Mackay's music has been described as magical, lyrical, incredibly fluent, any key, any song he's got it, one of the world's better accompanists, an awesome impressive jazz style, rhythmically articulate piano, a remarkable pianist, wistful piano, an implicit ensemble sense of swing, hip, full of joy, spark, and fire, and one of the Southland's finest pianists.On 25 June 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Dave Mackay among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.
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