Mark is a native of Southern California, and grew up in Huntington Beach. He was raised in a musical family, his father Woody Isbell was a professional saxophonist, and his mother played the vibes and was always singing around the house. Music was constantly in the air, and Mark was reared on the sounds of everyone from Stan Getz to The Beatles. In fact, according to his mother, Mark was singing along with Frank Sinatra records even before he could speak!
Mark's first instrument was the clarinet, starting on the alto sax later at about age 12. His Huntington Beach High School jazz ensemble did well at the competitions, placing first at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival, and at the Reno Jazz Festival, Mark's soloing was given high praise by Dr. Herb Wong. During this time, he studied privately with Don Hawkins, a well known local teacher whose former students include Eric Marienthal, Brandon Fields, Matt Otto, and Doug Webb.
After high school, Mark remained in Orange County and attended Golden West and Orange Coast colleges, gaining experience in their music departments under Doc Rutherford, Dave Anthony, and Gerry Schroeder. While at Golden West, Mark studied with renowned saxophonist Tom Kubis.
Ultimately, Mark headed East to Boston, Mass and enrolled at the famed Berklee College of Music. He recalls: "It was a really productive time for me. I was totally surrounded by music 24 hours a day; a wonderful environment to be in. I look back on my Berklee days with fond memories. I was going to school during the day, and jamming at night with fellow students Hendrik Meurkens, Joe Cohn, Tim Horner.. people like that." Also during this time, Mark was fortunate to meet and study with saxophone legend Phil Woods, an experience that continues to provide inspiration even today. "Yeah, he was great with me" Mark says, "he really made me want to work at becoming a better saxophone player".
After Berklee, Mark returned to California and started getting his first gigs and professional experience with players such as Marshall Otwell (pianist with Carmen McRae), Bob Messenger (formerly with The Carpenters), Rex Thompson, and drummers Kevin Tullius and Paul Kreibich. Mark has also shared the stage with Frank Collett, George Gaffney, Bob Maize, Charlie Shoemake, Bruce Forman, Mark Levine, Pat Senatore, Chuck Flores, Jeff Littleton, Luther Hughes, Kendall Kay, Ron Eschete, Kristin Korb, Llew Matthews to name a few, and recorded with bassist Walter Booker.
In 2001, Mark teamed up with guitarist and co-producer Peter Sprague to release his first recoding as a leader "Jazz Influence" on SBE records, along with pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Bob Magnusson, and drummer John Guerin. Brasilian jazz is Mark's great passion. His 2nd CD "Samba Copacabana" was recorded in Rio de Janeiro with a host of Rio's top players, and released in 2009 to critical acclaim.