Signature percussion set up by DW & ALEX ACUÑA. Oxnard CA
Archive for the Alex Acuña Stories/Articles Category
Weather Report: 37:04 running time <(download the show)
Born in Pativilca, Peru, 100 miles north of Lima, Alex Acuña was born into a musical family that inspired him and helped shape him as a musician. His father and five brothers were all musicians. Alex taught himself how to play the drums from the age of four. By the time Alex turned ten, he was already playing in local bands. As a teenager, he moved to Lima and became one of Peru’s most accomplished session drummers, performing on many recording projects for artists, as well as film and television productions.
In Lima, Alex also earned a glowing reputation for his live performances. So much so, that at the age of eighteen, Alex was chosen by the great Latin band leader, Perez Prado, to join his big band. It was with the Prado band that Alex first traveled to the United States. In 1967, Alex moved to Puerto Rico to work as a studio musician and play locally. During this period, he also studied for three years at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music, playing as a classical percussionist with the Symphony Orchestra under the direction of the famed Spanish cellist master Pablo Casals.
Alex moved to Las Vegas in 1974, where he played with such greats as Elvis Presley and Diana Ross. Between 1975 and 1977, he made part of jazz history when he became both drummer and percussionist for one of the most innovative and pioneering jazz groups of our time, Weather Report. He first performed as percussionist (October 1975 to April 1976), and later as drummer (April 1976 to October 1977). He recorded two albums with the group: “Black Market” (1976) and the highly successful “Heavy Weather” (1977), which included the famous tracks “Birdland” and “Havona.” “Heavy Weather” became the first jazz-fusion album to sell a million copies.
Alex next moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1978 where he quickly earned the position of a valued session drummer and percussionist for recordings, television and motion pictures. His countless album credits include such diverse artist as U2, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald, Whitney Houston, Sergio Mendes, Yellow Jackets, Chic Corea, Julio Iglesias, Koinonia, Juan Gabriel, Luis Miguel, Placido Domingo, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul and many more. Alex has also performed live with the likes of Al Jarreau, Roberta Flack, Antonio Carlos Jobim, The Gipsy Kings, Paco de Lucia, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Christina Aguilera and Tito Puente, to name a few. Additionally, Alex has recorded film scores under the direction of Dave Grusin, Alan Silvestri, Michele Legrand, Bill Conti, Michele Colombier, Marvin Hamlish, Maurice Jarre, Mark Isham, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Lalo Schiffrin and others. He became the recipient of many awards and honors including the Emeritus MVP award from NARAS (National Academy of Recording for the Arts and Sciences) and winner of the “Best Latin/Brazilian Percussionist” of Modern Drummer’s Readers Poll for five consecutive years.
Alex’s South American and Caribbean roots and understanding of contemporary and classical music make him a complete and skilled master musician. In 2000, Alex Acuña y Su Acuarela De Tambores received a Grammy nomination for “Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album” for “Rhythms for a New Millennium”. This solo album included varying styles of Latin, South American and African percussion. The nomination confirmed Alex’s vast knowledge and expertise of percussion rhythms. Zan Stewart of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Alex Acuña is the epitome of the world music percussionist, to whom no style is a stranger”. In addition, Alex has composed music for various artists and produced “Thinking of You” by Alex Acuña and the Unknowns, “Rumberos Poetry” by Tolú and “Aliyah” by Kay Silberling. This year will also see the release of Tolú’s “Bongo de Van Gogh,” the Unknowns follow-up album, and several projects for NIDO Entertainment.
Alex is widely known as an educator, gifted teacher and clinician of drums and percussion. He has recorded four solo instructional videos and provides seminars at universities such as UC Los Angeles, Berklee School of Music in Boston and other top international schools of music. Yamaha Drums, Zildjian Cymbals, Toca Percussion, Gibraltar, Vic Firth, Evans and Shure microphones all sponsor Alex. He is also credited with the design of Zildjian’s “Azuka” line of cymbals, signature Vic Firth sticks and the caddy stick bag, the Alex Acuña Yamaha Signature Model Timbales and his own Cajon, a Peruvian-Flamenco instrument for Toca Percussion.
Innovation, energy and pure heart characterize Alex’s playing. It is easy to see why Alex Acuña is one of the most sought after musicians of our time. Alex recognizes his music as a gift from the Lord and gives all the glory to God!
When and How was this great relationship between Music and you born?
Music came to me first from my father, he was a teacher. He taught my brothers and I how to play the different instruments he played. My father was a musician in the navy, then he became a professional musician. We are a family of thirteen, five boys and six girls. My Father taught all my brothers in my house in Pativilca, Peru. My house was like a conservatory in one room they played the trumpets, in the other room the guitars, in the other the flutes, things like that. When my brothers got real good at it, they formed a band. My mother used to tell my father not to teach me because she wanted me to be a carpenter or something else. Is funny that I became the musician and remained one. So I started playing with them when I was ten, music was natural and still is to me. I like to keep it that way, listening to the sounds and ideas flowing in me and start developing what I hear, what I feel, and I think that’s the best way to make music. The experience with my family growing up gave me a base. You know, when you are a kid you wonder, you observe a lot, the different instruments and sounds, how everything is placed musically.
What kind of music and instruments were you playing with the band?
We were playing popular music, Cuban music, you know Perez Prado, Sonora Matancera and also my father was from the north so we played the Marineras and the Tonderos. They didn’t use the cajon in those times, they played the drums and snares cimbals. My father knew all this music genres so he explained with details, you play like this you play like that, I was watching everybody that’s how I learned. My older brother taught me how to read music and play the trumpet. Also a little bit of piano, but they knew that I was a natural in playing the drums, that was my instrument, the rhythms. So what happen is that my brothers started getting married young and having kids so they went to Lima, the capital. They started meeting with other musicians and they noticed there wasn’t many drummers. They started telling everyone “we have a little brother over there in Pativilca, he smoking man”. So they called me, “Alex would you like to come over here, to Lima? I said I don’t know. You know, I was fourteen” and I said I’m not ready give me couple of years then I go, ok. At that time I was taking care of mom financially. I was playing with the bands from my little province. Once I turned sixteen I said, “I’m ready man”. I went to Lima and immediately started working in television, radio, concerts, shows, etc.
How was your experience in Lima as a musician?
Well I was only two years in Lima from 62′ to 64′, I played with everybody The Enrique Lynch band, Peter Delis band, Nico Estrada band and Rulito Pinasco, Tony de Cuba group and with Eulogio Molina I recorder daily in Odeon Studios, also in tv shows like “Hit de la Luna” with Enrique Maluenda and Pepe Hernandez. Few International singers like Enrique Guzman, Leo Dan, Nelson Pinedo, Palito Ortega, Maria Felix, Olga Guillot and others. All the many bands that came from Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Panama and Cuba. Singers like Kiko Fuentes, Carlos Miranda, Cesar Gonzales, Paco Amayo, Pochi Macedo, Tito Contreras and also with my brother Pepe Neciosup. Because I was able to read music they called me to play, so I got a great training. At that time the Peruvian Musician was top notch, they were well prepared to play music. Bass players, keyboard players and guitar players were considered great. There was a lot of gigs all over, many International musicians passed by there, even Gato Barbieri was in Lima for a minute. Lima was considered one of the main South American towns in the music industry, yeah great studios and concerts. When things like this happen the competition is good. So you better yourself when someone is kicking your butt, because you learn from it… jajajaja. I said “I better defend my corner”, “A defender la esquina, tu sabes”. One day Perez Prado came and saw me playing in one of my gigs in channel 2. He invited me to rehearse and after the first song he offered me the gig. He didn’t know that I knew his music, (jajajaja) so I played by memory. After playing he said “chiquito you want to go to the United States”, it was 1964. I said, what?. In United States they have great drummers, should I go? you think I can… He said “Na man the way you feel music that’s what I like”. I said ok, so I went to get my visa and came to the United States.
How was the experience you lived playing with Perez Prado?
I mean I started thinking, who really does that, to bring a minor to USA. He was in charge of me, until I started getting paid. He was responsible for my life in USA, he was like my father. I remember he would tell the musicians “Alex is a minor don’t take him out to drink or anything like that”. So I went from Peru to Miami and then went to New York. I stayed for about four days, he told me go this far, don’t go that far, stay experimenting in Broadway. We came to Los Angeles and rehearsed for the tour, we rehearsed for about four days straight. I was in a hotel across the Chineese Theater. Then he said, “After you start making money you are on your own”. I said “Yeah sure”, but he paid me a retainer when there was no work, he was straight ahead. Anyhow, when we left to Las Vegas I was a little intimidated because you know Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Little Richie, oh God! I started shrinking a little. He noticed and said ” Na ha you can’t shrink over here, you have to stay leveled with all musicians…” I said wow lets rehearse a lot, because I started seeing the level of musicians there. It hit me all of the sudden, I’m in USA I’m not in Peru anymore. I wasn’t the king of the pool it was a big jungle now, you know what I mean. I said ok, so he rehearsed with me, he said “No man you do a solo here and bam bam bum, start here and play all speeds what ever you feel, just don’t worry I will give a Q and bring the band in. He coached me and made a song for me to play, a drum solo. He coached me very well musically. He kept telling the musicians not to drink with me, he didn’t know I already had drank by then, (jajajajaja) “Chimpun Callao” you know what I mean. But ah, we continued the tour all over the United States, it was a beautiful experience. I started seeing the different cultures in USA. Texas was a different thing I never knew there was racism in those days. There was a restaurant where Perez wasn’t able to come in with us. Perez Prado is black, he said “I can’t get in there”, I said “what do you mean” I come from Peru, we don’t have that in Peru. Perez said “well I’m black”. I said what about me, then me too. He said “no no no but maybe they think you are Mexican”. Wow, I started learning so much it was 1964 at those days, racism still was very strong, just 43 years ago. I went to visit my mom in Peru. I had an accident and broke my arm, so I stayed in Peru for 6 months and when I got better I came with the band to Texas and then San Juan, Puerto Rico. When I saw San Juan, P.R in 1965 I said ” Yeah, “aqui me quedo” ” I stay here” tu sabes.
I know Puerto Rico has gave birth to many great writers and musicians.
What attracted you the most, why Puerto Rico?
Because the music, the people and the ‘caribe’ culture. It was like a paradise over there, the music in Puerto Rico is in the streets, is like Cuba like Brazil. Friday night (playing the congas) I said ” wow I want to learned that stuff you know”. They played the Bombas, the Plenas, the music brought me in and that was it. There I met a wonderful lady my first wife and had a kid, my first daughter. I thought I better get serious about music, so I started studying in the conservatory. I went to study music, classic music and other instruments. I wanted to make it a profession, to be a better musician. But ahh, San Juan received me with open arms, the community of musicians hired me to play with them. I started playing in tv shows and concerts. Then I started getting into Jazz, in Puerto Rico is where my ears opened to Jazz. That’s when I recognized Wayne Shorter from all the compositions he did for Miles. Then El Gran Combo, Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Joe Cuba and Sexteto la Playa. I mean this is not Willie Colon yet, It was Tico times. Santito Colon and Tito Rodriguez had a great band, a very different sound. In those days Cortijo y su Combo, Ismael Rivera, Kako and Mon Rivera were ruling, that’s a different story, Salsa wasn’t even born yet. It was Mambo, Cha Cha, Latin Jazz was happening. We were the pioneers of Jazz in Puerto Rico, over there we found great bass player Freddy Thomas and trumpet player Juancito Torres, Charlie Rodriguez was the saxophone player, the piano player Ray Cohen from New York and Papito Hernandez who switched with Freddy sometimes. Also great percussionist little Ray Romero. We started a program in channel 6 playing Jazz, it was televised in black and white in those days. Literately by listening to the Jazz records I was learning, my favorite drummers were Tony Williams and Elvin Jones at that time. I was in Puerto Rico for 10 years but always going to USA for gigs. But I noticed it was to difficult for me to live in New York because the winter was too cold and California was too big, too spread out. Also musically was big, Hollywood and the big bands orchestras. I wasn’t ready or wanted that for me, I was always very critical of myself. So then I went to Las Vegas and started working in the Hilton Hotel playing with Elvis Presley, Diana Ross, Sammy Davis, The Temptations, etc. I was the house drummer, I was preparing myself to come to Los Angels.
How did you meet Joe Ziwanul and became part of one of the greatest Jazz bands of all times?
Well, In Las Vegas is where Joe found me, while I was working in the Hilton. What happen is that some musicians that had played with Weather Report, bass player Mirslov Vitous and Don Alias were making a band. So they called David Lipman, sax player who used to play with Miles Davis. All this guys are good friends with Joe and Wayne. They called me and said “Alex we are making a band do you want to play with us?” “Sure man”, I said. So I came to Los Angeles to play Jazz, I had a family with 3 kids so I left the orchestra. I came to Los Angeles to play, rehearsed and I did a little record in San Francisco. On and off I was playing with Willie Bobo for two months. After that I had no more gigs, but I always had sense of hope, what we call faith, very strong. So one day I received a phone call. ” Hey Alex “I said who’s this?”” “this is Joe Ziwanul”, I said “from Weather Report?” “Yeah, you want to play with the band?” I though it was some one teasing me, many musicians will call and imitate voices and play with you. “Hey man I want you to play with Miroslav, Don Alias and David Lipman, who told me about you. I want you to play percussion in the band”. “Yeah but I don’t have any percussion right now, i don’t have a gig”. He said “don’t worry, when can I go and meet you?” He came by and we hanged out. He started seeing the way I walked, so I’m like, “whatcha looking at, wassap?”. He said “I was noticing the way you walk, I can tell you are a great player”. “So I’m hired now?” I said, “yeah man, give me the list today of everything you need and you know. When can you come to Los Angeles? We are going to start rehearsing next week” Joe said. So I got my ticket and left to L.A. We rehearsed for 5 days at Frank Zappa Studio. Then Joe said “Alex we are going to Europe for couple of weeks, do you have a green card?” “yeah I do”, I said. Next thing we were in Europe playing as Weather Report, It was an instant thing. In Europe Weather Report were like the Beatles in those days “The Beatles of Jazz”. We played 5 days straight and in every night there was about 4000 people, a lot of people came to witness Weather Report. I said wow , musically I had never played with a band like that, I mean 4 guys and me 5 right. I mean it sound it like an orchestra, the big sound, because the electronic, the expansion and the way we faced at each other. You know, inside the music every body had a voice, every one very strong. Like a stamp, a foot prints, everyone was a fine musician. Playing with those guys the level raised, also you know your level rises. I always practiced and listened to the way they played. Joe always told me very open “play what ever you feel, what ever you want to play”. One day Wayne Shorter gave me a great compliment, he came to me and said “The way you play the percussion, that’s the way I would play it” “no kidding?” I said. I mean Wayne was and still my hero, to me Wayne still one of the greatest musicians in Jazz. “His like Bach or Beethoven” really, he is the power. Joe, Wayne, Chick Corea, Miles, Herbie, McCoy all this Jazz musicians are going to stay forever, because they wrote so much music. So its a privilege to had played with those guys.
Who was in the line up when you joined the band? B+
Chester Thompson was in drums and Alphonso Johnson on bass, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul, its a great album, when Jacko Pastorius came I switched to drums. This Album became one of the most famous albums in Jazz History. Is in every Jazz dictionary.