Posts Tagged ‘Art Blakey’

Gretsch Greatest Hits . . . and Hitters

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Mark Guiliana: A Jazzer For Today

By Fred Gretsch

I want to start this article about Gretsch drum artist Mark Guiliana with a quote from a review of his 2013 recording, A Form of Truth, taken from Relix magazine: “There are musicians that the general public recognizes for their greatness, and then there are the musicians that other musicians stand in awe of. Drummer Mark Guiliana falls squarely into the second category.”

What places Mark at the forefront of today’s jazz drummers is the fact that he combines a genuine respect and reverence for the artistry of historic icons like Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Max Roach with a totally fresh and contemporary approach all his own. Blending impressive technical skills on acoustic drums with electronic sounds and processing, Mark can—and does—cover all musical contingencies.

In addition to playing in his own quartet, in his band Beat Music, and in an electronic duo dubbed Mehliana (with keyboardist Brad Mehldau), Mark is a first-call drummer for artists as varied as Avishai Cohen, MeShell N’degeocello, Matisyahu, Gretchen Parlato, and the group Now Vs. Now. In 2014 Mark had the opportunity to play on the late David Bowie’s final album: Blackstar (released on January 8 of this year).

Noted for his ever-changing musical personas, Bowie’s last turn took him into acoustic jazz—albeit with a dark and moody tone—and he wanted a rhythm section that could support his concept. So he called on Mark, with the able assistance of bassist Tim Lefebvre.

Reviews of the album have repeatedly mentioned the contributions made by Mark and Tim, as with this one from Billboard magazine: “Blackstar is unmistakably a band record, showcasing a talented group of musicians who are comfortable navigating the songs’ harmonically twisty byways. Special credit goes to bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana, who lock into Bowie’s grooves, tilting the music in the direction of spooky funk.”

The Wall Street Journal added: “Mr. Guiliana’s staccato drumming pieces the band’s moody wash of sound under Mr. Bowie’s voice as he sings an ominous tale. With Blackstar the delicious conceit of David Bowie conspiring with modern jazz artists is fulfilled beautifully.”

In 2015 Mark “returned to his roots,” recording an acoustic-jazz album called Family First with his quartet. Commenting on that album, Rhythm magazine said: “Mark is undoubtedly one of the most exciting new jazzers out there, and after his more electronic-style recordings of previous years, in 2015 he embraced the classic quartet format for some truly brilliant small-group jazz playing.” The magazine went on to name Mark as one of the top jazz drummers of the year.

In addition to his performing skills, Mark is a dedicated educator, eager to share his distinctive musical concepts with other drummers. He conducts frequent workshops in the New York City area, as well as clinics in various locations around the country. He can also be contacted for private lessons through his Web site,

On July 30 of 2014 I had a unique opportunity to take a step back into Gretsch Company history. I walked the streets of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, visiting several sites that mark the evolution of the Gretsch company from its inception in 1883 through 1969, some seven decades later.  I had the pleasure of being joined by more than twenty drummers who are fans of Gretsch drums and their history. I’m happy to say that Mark Guiliana was among that group. Following the tour, Mark had these kind words to say:

“I guess by most accounts I’m a jazz drummer, so my heroes are Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Art Blakey—a long list of guys who made their names on Gretsch drums. It was cool to tie the research that I’ve done on those drummers to the history that Fred Gretsch was providing—oftentimes from his own first-person experience. I specifically remember Fred talking about one of the first buildings we saw—on South Fifth Street. He pointed to a window on the second floor and said that it was where they did some of the drum wraps back in the early 1960s. It was nice to imagine how, as he described, great drummers would come in all the time—some to get new drums, some to just bounce ideas off each other. That was really cool.”

I’ll conclude this piece in the same manner as I began it: with a quote, this time from Modern Drummer magazine’s November 2014 cover story on Mark. In it, they refer to him as “the guy to watch if you want to know where the great art of drumming is right now—and where it could be headed.”

YouTube Clips

Here is Mark performing during his clinic at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, held this past November in San Antonio, Texas.

In this clip Mark walks us through some tips and tricks for emulating drum samples with an acoustic kit and few toys.

Here is Mark with Beat Music, at New York City’s Zinc Bar in 2014.



Art Blakey – The Driving Force

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The history of Gretsch drums is inseparably linked to the history of American music. And never was that more true than during the “Golden Age” of jazz that began at the end of the 1940s and ran through the early 1960s. In those years jazz dominated New York’s legendary 52nd Street club scene, with groups powered by stellar drummers playing on Gretsch drumsets.

“First among equals” in a group that included Max Roach, Elvin Jones, and “Philly Joe” Jones was the inimitable Art Blakey. Art’s unique drumming style combined a primal force and an elemental simplicity. With a driving 2/4 hi-hat pulse, a hissing ride cymbal sound, and loud snare and bass drum accents in triplets or cross-rhythms, Art streamlined the swinging groove of bebop, making it less busy and spasmodic.

Art established himself in the 1940s, working as a sideman for some of the biggest jazz artists of the day. During that same period he visited West Africa—after which he converted to Islam and took the name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina (which led to his nickname of “Bu”).

In the early 1950s Art formed the Jazz Messengers, a group based on his belief that a jazz group should be a solid cohesive unit, not just “five guys blowing on the same changes.” Accordingly, the Jazz Messengers rhythm section didn’t just play time behind the horns. Instead they backed up the horn section solidly and would set up the soloist—who, in turn, would listen and pick up cues that would be thrown his way.

For more than thirty years this legendary group served as the launching pad for young players who would influence music for generations to come. Just a short list of Messengers alumni includes Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, and Wynton Marsalis.

One of the pinnacles of Art’s career was his appearance on the unparalleled jazz classic album Gretsch Drum Night At Birdland. Recorded live at the famous New York City nightclub in 1960, this remarkable album documents performances by four great Gretsch drum artists: Blakey, Charlie Persip, Elvin Jones, and “Philly Joe”Jones.

Long-time Gretsch AR director Phil Grant said of Blakey, “Art was everybody’s all-time drummer. He was an individualist, a soloist. Not the greatest technician, by far. But he made up for that with his ideas and innovations; the way he did things. When he played a roll, it wasn’t the greatest roll, but it did things for you. He was quite a guy.”

Art continued to perform with the Jazz Messengers into the late 1980s. Over the years his force and fury on the drums eventually cost him much of his hearing. At the end of his life he often played strictly by instinct. Art died in 1990, leaving behind an enviable legacy and an approach to jazz that’s still the model for countless hard-bop players.

Enjoying Art Blakey

YouTube has an abundance of clips that showcase Art Blakey in his innovative prime, as well as clips from his later years when he was as much a musical mentor as a bandleader.  To begin with, check out a great Blakey drum solo from 1965 here.

Who says jazz can’t groove? Listen to “Moanin’,” performed by Art and The Jazz Messengers live in Belgium in 1958 here.

Art’s dynamic approach is evident on “Dat Dere,” played with the Messengers on a TV appearance in 1961 here.

A trademark drum intro and a dynamic solo by Art spice up a super-cool jazz waltz called—appropriately enough—“Kozo’s Waltz”—from the classic  ANight In Tunisia album. A clip from the record can be seen here.

You can see and hear the terrific interplay between Art and the various soloists in the Messengers playing “Close Your Eyes” on another TV clip from the 1960s. The sidemen are Lee Morgan – trumpet, Wayne Shorter – sax, Jymie Merritt – bass, and Walter Davis – piano. The clip can be seen here.

Art Blakey’s discography as a solo artist, as a sideman with other jazz greats, and as the leader of The Jazz Messengers is a study in itself, which you can pursue at WikiPedia or Just to get you started, three classic Blakey recordings to check out include The Big Beat (Blue Note, 1960), A Night In Tunisia (Blue Note, 1960), and Ugetsu—Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers At Birdland (Riverside, 1963). They’re available through Amazon, CDUniverse, and other online sources.