Ask Mark Gillingham that typical question, “What do you do?”

He’ll answer, “I’m a musician.”


It wasn’t always so. For decades Dr. Mark Gillingham, with his PhD from Wisconsin, taught at the university level in Maryland, Washington, Michigan and Illinois. He taught educators how to use technology. Then for a decade he worked at The Great Books Foundation establishing and upgrading their network. He actively supported the Jazz Institute of Chicago and occasionally picked up his clarinet, but mainly he was a listener.

That all changed when Mark moved to Las Vegas. He started participating in Highlands Jazz Ensemble and before long decided to create a jazz band. Joe McCaffrey said Mark could play Friday nights at the Observatory. Mark and several student musicians learned thematically appropriate music like “Pennies from Heaven” and “Moonglow.”  

Mark searched for a name for his band and decided on “Contrafact” which is a jazz term. You see back in the days of bebop when musicians didn’t have enough cash to pay royalties on copyrighted show tunes, they took the chords from existing songs and created new melodies. 

Mark composed “Contrafact” based on the chords of the original 1918 tune by concert pianist Ernest Seitz, “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise.” He composed “Contrarhythm” based on George Gershwin’s 1930, “I Got Rhythm.”

Contrafact plays every Wednesday from 7-9 pm at Borracho’s Craft Brews and Booze on Bridge Street. The band has played at Highlands, Castaneda Under the Stars, The Wildlife Refuge, The Annual Valentine Dance sponsored by the City of Las Vegas Museum and Rough Riders Memorial Collection and is eager to play at your next event. If you’d like to have great jazz, ballads and blues at your party or conference, contact Mark Gillingham at 505 738 3247 or @ContrafactJazz.

Mark explains,“I started Contrafact to expose young musicians in the community to an audience. Being in a band is a commitment which includes rehearsing once a week, showing up on time, and finding a replacement when necessary. Members have to know how to set up the equipment and encourage the audience to ‘tip the band.’

“Hopefully some of these musicians will end up becoming professional musicians. It’s a tough life but very satisfying. Our first drummer Miguel Martinez is now in Portland Oregon, going to college and performing his own music. He’s an amazing talent. Let’s hope he makes it long term.”

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of Contrafact members:

Beth Alderete

vocalist and alto sax

Graduated from Highlands in education. Teaches kindergarten/first grade in Sapello. Beth sings and scats and plays a mean saxophone.

Jamie Garcia

vocalist, trumpet and trombone

A Highlands 2018 graduate, last summer she created Music-Ops for Rural Youth instrumental music summer camp after sensing our community “isn’t as affluent as we once were.” Plans are under way to continue Music-Ops for Rural Youth in early summer.

Christopher Barela

bass guitar

Started playing sax in Mora. His teacher said, “You’re good,” and he’s been playing ever since. A 2018 Highlands graduate, he now works with the event technology service Santa Fe Audio Visual. Chris will continue playing guitars, writing songs, and singing.

“It’s hard, but it makes me feel so good.”

Brandon Gallegos

percussionist and vocalist

His Dad and watching Drumlines were the impetus to picking up sticks. Made All-District and All-State percussionist four years in high school. After two years at Highlands, he transferred to NMSU to be part of their 250 strong Pride Marching Band. Graduated with BA in History in ’09. A year in Hollywood at Musicians Institute to earn his music business certification. Returned to ABQ and rejoined his thrash metal band Regicide. Now graduating with Masters in Social Work, Brandon wants to work locally with at-risk adolescents and continue drumming.

Janie Chavez


When their father strummed his guitar, sisters Sandra, Janie and Grace sang for guests. First Hispanic lead in “Lily, the Felon’s Daughter.” Taught in Bakersfield California for 10 years. Taught at Robertson 20 years. Janie plans to continue singing and begin teaching basic piano skills to children ages 5-12.

Steve Leger

trumpet, flugelhorn, flute and Latin percussion

A music educator, Steve is a gifted musician and teacher. He heads up Los Tropicales and plays gigs from Trinidad to El Paso. He started playing trumpet in the high school band while still in fifth grade. When folks tell him they aren’t musical, Steve asks: “Can you walk? If you can, you have rhythm.” Love Musica has been his business for 20 years. Music is his life.

John Seaton


Started piano at seven. Conservatory in St. Louis. Crane School of Music in Potsdam, majoring in piano and tuba. Lived in NYC for two decades but mainly was on the road. John was in Taos rehearsing in the pit band for “Into the Woods” before it opened on Broadway. Almost overnight, his arthritis vanished, thanks to our dry climate. He decided to move here. Now 82 years young, John can play his beloved tuba as well as being indespensible on keyboards.

Beth Urech


Has performed her solo shows “Act Your Age” and “Jeannette Rankin Fights Back” locally, throughout the country and  internationally. As Contrafact’s designated torch-singer, Beth sings about lost and unrequited love but in reality is blissfully married to band leader Mark Gillingham.

Sponsored by the Las Vegas First Independent Business Alliance, Contracfact will perform at the Gazebo in Plaza Park on Friday, June 28 from 5:30-7:30 pm. Come and listen. Bring a picnic. Dance. We’re fortunate to live in a community which supports home-grown music like Contrafact.

Danny Sharp


Received guitar as Christmas present at age 8. Self-taught. Learns by listening to the guitarists like Alex Lifeson. Employee at Meow Wolf on the tech fabrication team. After graduation, Danny says, “I want to be a studio engineer and continue playing.”