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On the stage and the page with bassist Mark Dresser

“Hanging out was the most dangerous activity.”

Mark Dresser has shared his bass work with the world; now he’s thinking about posterity.
Mark Dresser has shared his bass work with the world; now he’s thinking about posterity.

Over the past two years, bassist Mark Dresser got hit hard by the Covid experience. That’s not to say that he actually contracted the virus, or that he went broke from lack of paying gigs like so many of his compatriots. “I’m fortunate enough to have the University gig,” says the UCSD Professor of Music. “So economically, I was okay. But the spiritual loss from not performing was tough. Performing is so central to my identity that I was questioning everything. I know other people were more resourceful: they’d play in their backyard and stream it. I did a few streaming gigs, but there just wasn’t enough activity. However, between winter and spring 2021, the UCSD Bass Ensemble, made up of my graduate students and I, was able to learn and perform 15 new graduate pieces that had been written for it. We’d rehearse weekly using Sonobus.net for audio and Zoom for video between our different locations.”

Dresser has been touring the United States and Europe since the 1980s, so playing live is in his blood. Eventually, and gradually, performance opportunities began opening up. “I had a solo concert last June in New Orleans, which was fabulous. Then I played in a trio with the great drummer Herlin Riley [who worked with Wynton Marsalis] and trombonist Big Sam Williams [of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band]. It was like a classic New Orleans group, but completely improvised. That was a lot of fun.”

Somehow, between the Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus, there came the opportunity to reschedule a European tour with the cooperative Trio M, with Bay Area pianist Myra Melford and New York drummer Matt Wilson. “Those gigs had been on the books for over a year. We played five countries in nine days.” The Trio’s tour began in Germany, then moved on to Switzerland, Italy, and Spain before concluding in London, England. “We were all so happy to be playing again; it was a thrill. And people seemed to be really glad to go out to a club to see and hear live music. Our first show was in Munich, and it was like a homecoming. This was a club I’ve played many times, and there were folks in the audience I’ve known for 20, 30 years. Everywhere we went, people would make a special trip to come see us. No one had seen each other in a while, so there was a lot of human contact, and everyone was happy to extend themselves on that level.”

Safety was on everyone’s mind — some more than others. “Socializing after the gig and hanging out was the most dangerous activity. Each country was different. There weren’t many people wearing masks in Germany, but they were very rigorous about testing people. Switzerland was pretty loose, but Italy was strict. Spain turned out to be very vigilant. England was the most rigorous country to enter. You had to pay for a PCR test: it was over a hundred dollars, and you had to prepay it, whether or not you were going to be in the country long enough to get the results — which we weren’t. We played the gig and left the next day, and we had to get an antigen test to leave the country.”

Back in the USA, Dresser is teaching and working on a comprehensive book covering his sound and instrumental research. “It’s a culmination of having taught for nearly 20 years. Everything I’ve learned about contemporary music and how it intersects with improvisation. This is all the stuff with the instrument and technique development that I’ve wanted to codify and make available for players, performers, and composers. It’s going to be comprehensive. It will exist in print form, it will have video files, [and] it will probably exist as an e-book. I want to find a format that’s as modern as our age.”

Never one to rest on his laurels, Dresser recently returned home from a European tour with the cooperative trio Jones Jones, featuring percussionist Vladimir Tarasov and saxophonist Larry Ochs. He’s committed to releasing his book in spring 2023.

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Mark Dresser has shared his bass work with the world; now he’s thinking about posterity.
Mark Dresser has shared his bass work with the world; now he’s thinking about posterity.

Over the past two years, bassist Mark Dresser got hit hard by the Covid experience. That’s not to say that he actually contracted the virus, or that he went broke from lack of paying gigs like so many of his compatriots. “I’m fortunate enough to have the University gig,” says the UCSD Professor of Music. “So economically, I was okay. But the spiritual loss from not performing was tough. Performing is so central to my identity that I was questioning everything. I know other people were more resourceful: they’d play in their backyard and stream it. I did a few streaming gigs, but there just wasn’t enough activity. However, between winter and spring 2021, the UCSD Bass Ensemble, made up of my graduate students and I, was able to learn and perform 15 new graduate pieces that had been written for it. We’d rehearse weekly using Sonobus.net for audio and Zoom for video between our different locations.”

Dresser has been touring the United States and Europe since the 1980s, so playing live is in his blood. Eventually, and gradually, performance opportunities began opening up. “I had a solo concert last June in New Orleans, which was fabulous. Then I played in a trio with the great drummer Herlin Riley [who worked with Wynton Marsalis] and trombonist Big Sam Williams [of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band]. It was like a classic New Orleans group, but completely improvised. That was a lot of fun.”

Somehow, between the Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus, there came the opportunity to reschedule a European tour with the cooperative Trio M, with Bay Area pianist Myra Melford and New York drummer Matt Wilson. “Those gigs had been on the books for over a year. We played five countries in nine days.” The Trio’s tour began in Germany, then moved on to Switzerland, Italy, and Spain before concluding in London, England. “We were all so happy to be playing again; it was a thrill. And people seemed to be really glad to go out to a club to see and hear live music. Our first show was in Munich, and it was like a homecoming. This was a club I’ve played many times, and there were folks in the audience I’ve known for 20, 30 years. Everywhere we went, people would make a special trip to come see us. No one had seen each other in a while, so there was a lot of human contact, and everyone was happy to extend themselves on that level.”

Safety was on everyone’s mind — some more than others. “Socializing after the gig and hanging out was the most dangerous activity. Each country was different. There weren’t many people wearing masks in Germany, but they were very rigorous about testing people. Switzerland was pretty loose, but Italy was strict. Spain turned out to be very vigilant. England was the most rigorous country to enter. You had to pay for a PCR test: it was over a hundred dollars, and you had to prepay it, whether or not you were going to be in the country long enough to get the results — which we weren’t. We played the gig and left the next day, and we had to get an antigen test to leave the country.”

Back in the USA, Dresser is teaching and working on a comprehensive book covering his sound and instrumental research. “It’s a culmination of having taught for nearly 20 years. Everything I’ve learned about contemporary music and how it intersects with improvisation. This is all the stuff with the instrument and technique development that I’ve wanted to codify and make available for players, performers, and composers. It’s going to be comprehensive. It will exist in print form, it will have video files, [and] it will probably exist as an e-book. I want to find a format that’s as modern as our age.”

Never one to rest on his laurels, Dresser recently returned home from a European tour with the cooperative trio Jones Jones, featuring percussionist Vladimir Tarasov and saxophonist Larry Ochs. He’s committed to releasing his book in spring 2023.

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