Mark Dresser wins Doris Duke Impact Award

Bassist Mark DresserMark Dresser wins Doris Duke Impact Award

Jazz bass maverick thanks mentors Bert Turetzky and Jimmy Cheatham

By David Sands
June 25, 2015

The trailblazing bassist and composer Mark Dresser has made a name for himself exploring the cutting edge of jazz—and now he’s being recognized for his efforts. Dresser is one of seven artists this year being honored with the prestigious Doris Duke Impact Award. The announcement came June 16.

Known for his work with the double bass, Dresser has developed a reputation as an innovator in avant-garde and free jazz circles. Over the years, he’s earned praise for his work as a solo artist and bandleader, as well as for his skills as a sideman with experimental musicians like Ray Anderson, Tim Berne, Bob Ostertag, and Anthony Braxton and John Zorn. From 1985 to 1994, the bass player was a member of Braxton’s quartet. In addition to all this, he’s also a Professor of Music at the University of California in San Diego.

The Doris Duke Impact award recognizes “artists who have influenced and are helping to move forward the fields of dance, jazz and/or theatre.” Artists are nominated by previous winners. As a recipient of the honor, Dresser will receive an $80,000 cash prize.

The Doris Duke website celebrates Dresser “as a leading proponent of solo improvised bass and a master of extended techniques, including  harmonics and sound amplification.” It also acknowledges his research into “telematic music,” which involves physically separated musicians performing in real-time via the Internet.

Dresser’s recorded endeavors include the 2010 CD/DVD/art book GUTS: Bass Explorations, Investigations, and Explanations, 1994’s Invocation, a solo album, and 2001’s Duologues, a collaboration with pianist Denman Maroney.

Asked by the award website to recommend just one of his works from the last ten years, he names his 2005 solo contrabass CD Unveil.

“[It] gives special attention to a language of extended techniques and its relationship to melody, harmony, and rhythm through structured improvisation and composition,” he says. “Facilitated by a custom-made pick-up system that amplifies normally inaudible sounds of the bass are featured to create an expressive music that is both unfamiliar yet grounded.”

Speaking to NBC San Diego‘s Robert Bush about the award, Dresser made a point of acknowledging two teachers.

“I’ve had great mentors like Bert Turetzky and Jimmy Cheatham who have encouraged me as long as I can remember to be an artist, not an instrumentalist and to strive to be a first-rate version of myself,” he said. This Doris Duke award is definitely a new level of national recognition for my music. That being said, the pressure of coming up with the next level of my music feels greater than ever.”

Winning this year’s Impact award alongside Dresser are bassist Reggie Workman, multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill, percussionist Milford Graves, drummer Tyshawn Sorey and pianists Kris Davis and Matt Mitchell.

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