Give The Music Everything – an interview with Mark Guiliana

29. April 2019
Lennart Richter

BEAT MUSIC was one of this year’s headlining acts at Jazzkaar festival. The band around prodigious drummer Mark Guiliana is currently touring through Europe to promote their most recent full length album BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! (2019). Guiliana gained international recognition through his work with David Bowie, Avishai Cohen, Brad Mehldau, Dhafer Youssef among many others. He also inspires drummers and other musicians around the word as an educator. Despite a busy schedule he kindly made time to sit down with us to talk about his path as a drummer and composer, his inspiration and creativity, his band BEAT MUSIC and their latest album, as well as his mission on stage.


Is this your first time in the Baltics?

I have been here before. It’s been a few years now, but I’m very happy to be back.


What is your impression of Jazzkaar so far?

Unfortunately we are only here for tonight so we will not be able to see other acts. When I was reading who is here though, I realized that there are some very good friends in the line-up that we are just missing. It seems like the programming is very cool and I wish I could be here longer to check some stuff out.


You started playing drums at age 15 – what got you into jazz and electronic music?

I was very luck to have an excellent first teacher named Joe Bergamini. With him the priority was building a strong foundation – so exploring many different styles, one of which was jazz. It was through him that I was introduced to jazz. I quickly fell in love with that music and it became a strong focus of mine that eventually led me to going to college for music to focus on jazz. It was there that I got to meet a lot of like minded musicians and also got introduced to electronic music. Squarepusher was the first artist out of that realm that I discovered, and similar to the first time I heard jazz it really excited me. I did not know what was happening, but the music hit me – so I knew I had to chase that feeling, which I have been doing ever since.


You mentioned Squarepusher – who are your heroes on the jazz side of things?

It is a very long list, I have many heroes – but Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Roy Hanes, Jack DeJonette, Art Blakey had a huge influence on me. And of course – to also mention some non-drummers – John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk [laughs]. Unfortunately I did not have the chance to see many of those guys – Wayne and Herbie are still with us and I got to see Elvin once before he died. But I was in college around the early 2000s and I was going out to see music almost every night in New York City. Therefore, I also had a lot of modern day heroes, like Brad Mehldau or Jeff Ballard, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Avishai Cohen, most of which I ended up playing and touring with. It was very special to have those heroes like Coltrane that really are responsible for so much of the music, but also those who I could actually meet and talk to.


After college you joined Avishai Cohen and recorded many albums and toured with him extensively. How did the education you received there differ from studying music at college?

In college it was all about being a drummer and a musician, but on the road it was more about being a responsible, highly functioning human being, you know [laughs]. In college they cannot prepare you, for example, a day like today. Last night we played a late show in Paris, but this morning we left the hotel at 5:30am to catch the first of our two flights to get here. In situations like that I think about how I can still be at my best on stage that night no matter if it was a relaxing or a difficult day – every decision throughout the day has to be in alignment with that goal. Being consistent was really what I learned being on the road with Avishai. Nobody wants to know whether or not you slept well, or had a difficult time. For me playing music can be an outlet for such things, so all of that energy has a place to go.


Which were the major steps from your first gig with Avishai to you writing your own music?

Composition has become more of a focus and a passion over the last ten years for me, but the most important step for me really was building the confidence to believe in having something to offer. Of course I love the drums, but it is really much more fulfilling to be able to present my own music. Also bringing the players that I want on the road with me and having that feeling of friendship between us come out through the music is huge.


When I was younger I was relying on other people to call me and ask me to play. Even though I have loved all the projects I have been a part of it has of course not always been the music I have wanted to play. Nothing satisfies your artistic needs as much as your own music. So I decided to invest more time into composition and I am very grateful for the opportunity to present it.


What inspires your writing process?

Nothing in particular – it is really an accumulation of all my experiences. Having the opportunity to play this music live and bring it on the road makes me think about what do I want to play every night and what kind of energy, feelings, and sounds do I want to bring out. I have those bigger picture things in mind when I compose, so these considerations shape the direction.


What about the spoken word elements inside your music? Are they also a source of inspiration, or does the music comes first?

The music comes first. The spoken word elements have been a part of the BEAT MUSIC project throughout its existence, but most of the time it is just another texture inside the music. On the new album though there are some songs where it is meant to be a more prominent element and a feature. I just like the way it adds another dimension to the music.


What can people expect from tonight’s concert? Who did you bring with you?

We have Chris Morrissey playing electric bass, and Sam Crowe and Nick Semrad on keyboards. I have played a lot with all these guys in different situations, but with this tour it is the first time we are coming together as the four of us. We are playing music from the new record BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! BEAT MUSIC! The music is quite compositional, so there are many details, but every night we find spaces to explore and create new environments. It is just really fun playing with those guys.


Which of your other projects should people check out?

Another project I have is my Jazz Quartet, which is quite different from BEAT MUSIC. It is an acoustic quartet with saxophone, piano, bass, and drums. Previous to this record with BEAT MUSIC the quartet had been my main output as a leader and that is still active. For me it is a real dream to be able to have BEAT MUSIC and the Jazz Quartet as an option, because both expressions are of equal value to me. At the end of May, when we will return from this tour, the Jazz Quartet is going to play the Village Vanguard in New York for a week, so that is a very special opportunity. Especially to come home from this tour and have it right so close to each other is quite fulfilling.


Do you have a mission?

I do not think about one mission. I am just very grateful for the opportunity to play music. The goal for me is to give the music everything I have and therefore give the people on any given night anything I have. I hope that maybe that would inspire them to give what they have into positive things as well. It does not matter so much which passion people have, but about the dedication to something for good.