As an active musician and recitalist, bassist and composer Mark Sonksen demonstrates an impressive versatility and expansive knowledge of jazz music. While strongly rooted harmonically in the modern jazz idiom, his works incorporate a wide variety of influences from Brazilian to Latin-tinged jazz to European jazz and Argentine Tango music. Over the years Mark has been blessed with the opportunity to play music with many great artists including Bobby Shew, Louie Bellson, Jodie Christian, Diane Shuur, Ira Sullivan, Ed Thigpen and Hugh Fraser, among others. He has also been the recipient of various grants and awards recognizing his talents as a composer, including City of Chicago CAAP Grant recipient, ASCAP/IAJE Honorable Mention of Special Distinction, ASCAPPLUS awards(2006, 2007, 2008) and one of the Jazz Composers in Residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Banff Alberta, Canada. (2006, 2007).
Two CDs, “Blue Visions: Compositions of 1995/1996\" and the recently released “Alba”, highlight his original compositions and arrangements. Currently he is orchestrating an original suite in three movements for Bandoneon, Trumpet and Jazz Orchestra. His current \"book\" includes 75 original compositions for small, medium and large ensembles. Mark is a member of the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 10-208.
The composition process,the recording sessions of 1995 and 1996, musical influences and their roots....
\"I remember the moment very clearly: it was my birthday in the spring of 1995. I had only recently moved to Chicago and began getting involved in the music scene. That particular morning I woke up very early--about 6AM--and sat down right away at the piano to write down the music that had been in my head. It was a very surreal moment; it was as if the music had just showed up in my dreams, already composed. Within an hour I had the basic tune written down and within a day or say, it was finished. At that moment my life as a composer in the jazz idiom had begun. It was as if whatever deity out there said \"here, try this and see what becomes of it\". I\'ve only had that experience happen a 1/2 dozen times since then, in the composition process. Nevertheless, I still will wait for the Muse to speak to me. Sometimes not much happens, other times I find myself staying up through the night to write. While there may or may not be a pattern to it, I have noticed that some of my more productive times have been during times when my personal life has been very difficult. I suppose it\'s a decent trade-off!
When I first contacted the musicians on this CD (\"Blue Visions: Compositions of 1995/1996\") it was through my housemate, a very talented pianist named Nina Ott--she now lives in the Boston area with her bassist husband, Chris Lopes. Everyone agreed to do the session, even though I couldn\'t pay a whole lot of money. They also agreed to rehearse. It was a good growth period for me as it put me beyond my comfort zone; I didn\'t really know any of them very well. I just knew that they were some exceptional musicians on the scene in Chicago. Dana Hall, the drummer was particularly helpful in his suggestions. I was fortunate to have him on the sessions, as he is incredibly busy now as a university professor and also a member of Jazz at Lincoln Center, among other things.
There were two different recording sessions, one year apart. Thankfully I\'ve grown musically and in other aspects of my life since that time, but I am very please with this as an accurate portrait of where I was as a musician and a composer at that time. It\'s also interesting to note how even then in my early compositions, the influences of my travels and my involvement in Hispanic culture had affected my music. There is a certain energy that Latin music (Afro-caribbean, South American, including Brazil) that really grabbed my intention from the first time I heard it. A very hop literature teacher of mine had played some Ruben Blades stuff from the Fania label--late 70\'s/early 80\'s classic \"salsa\". It was \"Canciones del Solar de los Aburridos\"--one of the collaborative records by Ruben Blades with Willie Colon. Also I remember hearing Irakere (on the columbia label). I had never heard that kind of Cuban music before, had no idea of clave and had no idea of how the hell the bassist knew where to start and how he kept just a bit *off* what I felt as the beat! Fast forward several years and I also heard my first recordings of Tango music: Astor Piazzolla \"Nuevo Tango: Hora Zero\"!! I had NO idea that this guy was certainly NOT what many considered to be tango! Sort of like hearing late recordings of Coltrane and assuming that was how he\'d always played!! Only years later, playing in a Tango quartet had I realized how avante guarde Piazzolla was in relation to the rest of the history of Tango music! Again these influences started to come out in my compositions starting around 1999. This can be heard on my more recent CD \"Alba\". While it may seem that my music is an odd amalgemation of music, in my mind it all has one commone root, however obscured it may now be: Africa. Plain and simple, the music that I truly love and is closest to my heart is music that is directly or indirectly rooted in the African tradition. Piazzolla is dead wrong when he states that Tango \"has nothing to do with Africa and is purely Mediterranean\" in it\'s origin. Jazz, Tango, Latin music, Blues, Rock \'n\' Roll,...it all has the same source.