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Noted Encinitas jazz musician wins Doris Duke Impact Award

Acclaimed jazz bass player Mark Dresser has been a professor at UCSD since 2004.
Acclaimed jazz bass player Mark Dresser has been a professor at UCSD since 2004.
( / Courtesy photo)

When Mark Dresser, an acclaimed jazz bass player and Encinitas resident, found out he was named one of the small number of winners of this year’s Doris Duke Impact Award, he was humbled.

“No, I didn’t see it coming,” said Dresser of the honor, which gives a financial boost to the tune of $80,000 to deserving artists across the nation. “At a certain point, someone anonymously nominated me to apply. So I did.”

Dresser was recognized by the New York-based organization thanks to his contribution to jazz music, which has been his life’s work.

“It’s gratifying,” Dresser said from his office at UCSD, where he’s been a professor since 2004. “I realize that especially in my field, this is not done alone. If my music has made an impact, it’s made its impact through the efforts of everyone involved — from my community of collaborators to the musicians that help forge my music forward.”

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Long a familiar face in the San Diego music scene, Dresser studied in the ’70s at UCSD under longtime faculty member Burt Turetzky before dropping out to join the San Diego Symphony. Throughout his life, it was his passion and talent for jazz that helped him through the ups and downs of a turbulent and sometimes chaotic industry.

“There’s been moments of defeat and regrouping, but the moments of determination make it all work,” he said. “I’m very happy to receive it, since I realize that there are lots of people worthy of this award who are out there in the trenches making art and music because they have the need to do it.”

In total, $1.6 million was given 20 recipients this year in three specific fields: jazz, theater, and dance. The use of the prize money is completely unrestricted, and, according to the foundation, is designed to “help artists thrive and continue to make daring work in the face of the financial challenges.”

Said Dresser, “These organizations take it upon themselves to help artists make the best of it and be more entrepreneurial and wise about money.”

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The moment he was notified he was one of 20 chosen for the honor came completely out of the blue. “I got a congratulatory phone call from people on the staff, which was just lovely,” he said, remembering that they noted one caveat. “They said how important it was not to reveal I won the award until the right time.”

As for how the award will help Dresser and his craft, he joked that the “national recognition doesn’t hurt, so that should help push things along.”

Noting the influence UCSD had on his life, Dresser also spoke highly of the school.

“As part of the faculty, I’ve been able to develop here as well. So not only is it a win for me, but it’s a win for everybody involved in my life.”


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