Mark Guiliana

In conversation with Mark Guiliana

Words: Erminia Yardley
Photos: Carl Hyde

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The modest and down-to-earth family man, Mark Guiliana, is a talent to be revered and treasured.

EY: How did you get involved in the crazy world of music, and what is your background?

MG: I grew up in New Jersey with no music in my immediate family, both my brothers played sports. When I was fifteen, my parents gave me drum lessons as a Christmas present. I had no expectations about all that, but after starting I had an intuitive connection with the instrument, I wanted to work hard and it was something I really enjoyed. It was a very casual encounter, a hobby, and then after time I found myself taking it more seriously and wanted to make it my life.

EY: Apart from being an established drummer, you are also a composer, a teacher, and a producer. How do you manage to combine all these, or is there one of these sides you find yourself being more and more drawn to?

MG: I am a drummer first, I have been doing it the longest, the composition side is also a priority and a passion mainly because I have an outlet: a band. It is inspiring to know that there will be guys whom I respect and admire that will be willing to play these compositions. I am also very passionate about teaching, I have had great teachers in my life so I value the relationship that can be had between teacher and student and I do my best to achieve this every time. To inspire my students.

EY: What prompted the creation of Beat Music Productions?

MG: The biggest reason that I created the label is to have a reliable output for my various projects, on a more traditional setting I am not sure a traditional record label would be interested in releasing both my electronic and my acoustic output. It is important for me to have an outlet for all of this material and to know that as I am making something I don’t have to worry about where it will appear or who will put it out, so it is a very confident feeling to know that there will always be a means to release this content.

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EY: There are a few record labels that have made sure they have great musicians on their lists. As the founder of “Beat Music Productions”, apart from releasing your own records on it, who else are you planning to have on the label, if any?

MG: I don’t have any plans to release other people’s music for the moment, but that doesn’t mean I am ruling that out. For now, the goal is to have a consistent and reliable outlet for my music.

EY: I need to mention now the incredible quote from Time Out London as published on your website: “What happens when you add hard bop drum masters Elvin Jones and Art Blakey to a 1980s Roland 808 drum machine, divide the result by J Dilla and then multiply to the power of Squarepusher? Answer: Mark Guiliana.” That is just an amazing write-up, Mark. With names like Elvin Jones and (my favourite) Art Blakey, but also J Dilla…. Do you feel you have achieved a certain level now or will there always be growth in your camp?

MG: I agree, it is an amazing write-up, it is very flattering to be mentioned alongside those names. I certainly don’t consider myself deserving of that, but those guys are my heroes and I will certainly be working for the rest of my life to try and achieve even a percentage of what those guys achieved. Again, it’s flattering but I do not put myself anywhere near those guys. I am always trying to work hard and, you know, develop my musicianship.

EY: Tell me more about your collaborations with some greats like Avishai Cohen (Bass) and Gretchen Parlato please?

MG: With Avishai, it was an incredible experience: I met him in 2001, we started playing around New York, but with the touring band we didn’t start till between 2003 and 2008, we made six records together. It was an incredible learning experience, I owe him a lot, he was the first guy who believed in me and brought me on the road. We came to Europe and toured a lot. With Gretchen, I guess I met her in 2009 and we started playing together shortly thereafter. She is an incredible musician and I am grateful I have played often with her over the years. It’s been a very challenging musical situation. Hers is a very very expressive and dynamic music but with quite a bit of restraint and as a drummer the last bit I wanted to do is to overpower her so it was a challenge to support that music dynamically, but also rhythmically. Gretchen’s sense of rhythm is incredible, she is amazing.

EY: On your new album “Family First” [UK Vibe review] which is produced by you and released on your own label, you have also chosen musicians of such calibre as Jason Rigby (on tenor sax) and Chris Morrissey (on double-bass), can you tell me what working with them is like – what does it mean to you?

MG: For me, when I am creating an ensemble, of course I am considering the level of musicianship but it is also important to have strong personal relationship with these guys. And with Jason (Rigby) and Chris (Morrissey), they are two of my best friends and we play together a lot in different situations so it was really a no-brainer to have them in the band. I honestly didn’t think of anyone else but these guys, it had to be them. So the friendship element makes its way into the music and that’s so important to me.

EY: Another amazing project which you took to full fruition is the brilliant “Mehliana: Taming the Dragon” on Nonesuch Records where you play with the talented Brad Mehldau (synths, Fender Rhodes and piano). How did this project / idea come about?

MG: I have been a fan of Brad long before I met him. He was one of my favourite musicians and certainly continues to be one. I look up to him and it was a true honour to be in this project with him. We met a few times over the years, on the road and then in 2008 it is the first time we got together, just the two of us and we started improvising and it felt comfortable and conceptually it didn’t sound that different from what Mehliana sounds today. It wasn’t until 2011 that we played our first gig and then we said “hey we should go on the road”, it was an overall very organic process and I am very grateful to be part of the project.

EY: Talking about your new album “Family First” again, will you performing tracks from this tonight at Ronnie Scott’s, and how will the Mark Guiliana jazz Quartet plan their gig? Spare us a little preview please.

MG: Basically we will be playing the repertoire from “Family First” and a few extra songs that didn’t make it into the record. I am very excited as it will also be the final date of the tour. I am really looking forward to the gig!

EY: As a composer, who, what or where is your inspiration?

MG: I do my best to take inspiration from everywhere, of course my musical inspirations are quite diverse, from Bob Marley to John Coltrane and Kurt Cobain, but also to non-music influences whether it is literature or a movie that I enjoyed, hanging out with my family. My most successful musical artistic endeavours have occurred when I have been an honest assimilation of all of my influences.

EY: Do you have time to relax? And if yes, what is your credo?

MG: I certainly have time to relax and that is a big priority to make sure I have time to relax. For me the most important thing in my life is my family. Actually, we talked about Gretchen earlier on… she is my wife and we have a son, his name is Marley and he is one and half years old and pretty much any spare moment outside working and creating is spent with him. For me it is very important to find that balance and I am grateful to be able to have so much family time.

EY: Thank you Mark for sparing UK Vibe the time to talk. We do wish you the very best for tonight and for the path ahead.

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travelling the spaceways since 1993