On June 16, San Diego bass innovator Mark Dresser was announced as one of just seven jazz musicians in the country to receive a prestigious Doris Duke Impact Award. The award was distributed among veterans such as Dresser, former John Coltrane bassist Reggie Workman, percussion legend Milford Graves, Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill, and younger, cutting-edge proponents like pianist Kris Davis, drummer Tyshawn Sorey, and pianist Matt Mitchell.
The $80,000 award is parceled out over three years and has no strings attached. According to the Doris Duke website, this is how the process works: "Previous Doris Duke Artist Award recipients nominate multiple artists for the Doris Duke Impact Award. Nominators are required to identify artists who have influenced and are helping to move forward the fields of dance, jazz and/or theatre—but may or may not be artists in one of these particular fields."
The UC San Diego professor has actually been keeping the news under his hat.
"I found out about being awarded the prize six weeks ago but I couldn’t tell anyone outside of my wife and mom," the bassist relates, via email. "I felt gratified being recognized by this organization and it’s especially meaningful to know that I was chosen by a panel made up of distinguished but unknown colleagues in the field. I’m still trying to get a handle on the implications of such a significant financial prize attached and continuing to figure out what that could mean in realizing my music on a more dimensional level."
Even as he celebrates the achievement, Dresser remembers getting help. "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. 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 the award was an obvious validation for a musician whose creative imperatives have led him to forge his own path, but there are other sources of inspiration much closer to home. "The most important validation of my life is my 32 years with [wife] Carol Del Signore whose love, support, and steadfast belief in what I was doing has gotten me through the long haul and continues to sustain me."
I asked Dresser if he had any immediate plans for putting the award into action.
"For the next year, it's clear what my projects will be: composing music for a new septet recording on Clean Feed Records, a new telematic project, 'Changing Tides, A Translocational Series.' As well, I will begin composing, recording, publishing, and recording some new solo music. This is a three-year award and as such I will have time to reflect and figure out what the meaningful steps will be. This is perhaps the most exciting aspect!"
Note: Telematics involves musicians in different geographic locations performing together in real time through the use of the Internet2, high-speed video and audio connections, and a crew of highly skilled technicians.