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Mark Guiliana: New Beats

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I definitely have two parts of my brain that I am trying to satisfy. The sophistication, the jazz school thing, and I just want to hang out, feel the groove.
Mark GuilianaPerhaps most recognized for his extended stint holding down the drum chair for bassist/composer Avishai Cohen, Mark Guiliana has been pushing the envelope of jazz drumming since first jumping onto the scene. Anyone who has heard—and particularly seen—Mark Guiliana play instantly recognizes not only his incredible technical facility, but also his unique take on percussion, based as much on hard-hitting grooves, electronica, and rock as traditional jazz conceptions. Certainly, other drummers, particularly some of the younger breed, have begun incorporating these influences into jazz, nor is jazz a stranger to multi-style fusion. But few started down this path as early as Guiliana, few have embraced it with such vigor, and few have attained such distinctive results.

Guiliana continues to work as an integral part of Cohen's band, but has recently spearheaded some equally avant-garde projects of his own. AAJ's Franz Matzner had the privilege of speaking with Guiliana recently about the genesis of his sound, his suburban New Jersey roots, and where he is headed next.

Chapter Index

  1. Musical Beginnings
  2. Meeting Avishai Cohen
  3. Musical Travels
  4. New Direction in Drumming
  5. New Projects
  6. Mark on Mark



Musical Beginnings

All About Jazz: You were born and raised in New Jersey, correct?

Mark Guiliana: That's right. I've never lived outside of New Jersey.

AAJ: Paterson?

MG: I went to school at William Paterson. I'm from Morris County, a town called Florham Park.

AAJ: I know right where that is. Not quite Soprano's land, but pretty close.

MG: Uh, it's Soprano's land all right. [Laughs]

AAJ: Growing up around there, what were your favorite things to do?

MG: I was a sports guy. I didn't start playing music until I was fifteen. I was doing all the typical suburban kid things, sports, hanging out. Both my brothers were prolific athletes so I was kind of happily in their shadow. And then I discovered music in eighth grade just as I was getting into high school.

AAJ: That's pretty intriguing. The usual story is musical parents, started young. You don't hear as often about people starting older, and particularly getting to the place where you've been. What drew you to starting to play?

MG: To be honest I can't pinpoint it. There's no hint of musicianship in my immediate family and I was just enjoying music from a distance as most people do. But my cousin kind of casually started playing drums and I just sat down behind him and enjoyed fooling around. [Then] as a Christmas present my parents said, "We'll pay for drum lessons and agree to just a couple months to see how it goes."

So really, I guess another atypical situation is [that] when I started taking lessons is when I started playing. I see all of these things as advantages. I didn't have a chance to learn an improper technique. I had an amazing first teacher named Joe Bergamini, who has been a mentor always and we're great friends. He really took me from the absolute beginning stages...built great foundations for me to work with. It was not in my mind, "Hey, I'm gonna become a drummer." It was just, "Oh, I'll take some drum lessons."

Mark Guiliana / HeerntAAJ: That 's a fast trajectory. First lessons at fifteen and then straight to being a music major. Did you find that you had a fast development right from the beginning or did it take time to build up momentum?

MG: A little of both. My love for it was aided by the fast growth. Sometimes I would be presented with stuff and I would just catch on. That doesn't mean I was nailing it, but just things felt natural pretty early. That obviously would inspire me to keep going. It fueled the fire. As little bridges were crossed here and there it kept my momentum going. I really immersed myself in any musical setting I could. Marching band, concert band, jazz band, the pit orchestra for the musicals...I was just excited to play drums.

AAJ: The more you got it into it and started to think about it as a career, is this something your parents embraced?

MG: All of it was very casual. No real decision was made. But a big [moment] for me emotionally was in my second year of high school. I was trying out for the baseball team. The coach called me in and said, "Happy to have you on board, but I know that on Thursdays jazz band rehearsal is going to conflict with practice and we need you here." So he kind of very passive aggressively forced me to make a decision. Music or sports. And I remember specifically leaving his office and feeling like the weight of the world was off my shoulders because I knew. "Oh. Wow. Here we go. It's music."

And this whole time I'm [also] playing in rock bands, because that's really where my heart was coming from. The reason I started playing was Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chile Peppers, Dave Grohls from Nirvana, and all that stuff. Getting back to the suburban New Jersey thirteen/fourteen year old thing. I was just listening to the radio and that stuff was definitely the first thing I touched. Then slowly there was a bridge to jazz...I remember specifically first it was Buddy Rich—which was cool because it was jazz but there was still a lot of drums. I started to get into technique, and he brought me to both. I started to think "this jazz thing is cool." Then it was Tony, Max, Elvin, the whole list. That was a very deliberate "Wow. I love this music. I'm going a hundred percent this way."

AAJ: Did that develop when you started going to William Paterson?

MG: A little before. Because I stayed with Joe all through high school and he exposed me to everything.

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