INTERVIEW WITH ALEX ACUNA – PERCUSSIONIST/DRUMMER
AW When arriving in the states who were your influences, I hear you enrolled in a conservatory and even studied the Chapin books, what was the attraction of those books?
AA Before I came to USA I was already listening to American Drummers like; Joe Morello - Gene Krupa - Buddy Rich - Rufus Jones - Charlie Persip and many others. Later when I came here 1964 I discovered Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Roy Haines, Mel Lewis, Don Lamond, Jake Hanna, Jack D’ Johnette. And The list goes on!
Also I went to live in San Juan, Puerto Rico and enrolled to study percussion at the Music conservatory in San Juan, Puerto Rico to be able to understand all the proper education about Percussion. Believe it or not, Im still studying the Jim Chapin Book has always fascinated me the studies on limb coordinations. I studied all parts independently but then I had to play it all at once and together, so, I called it coordinations.
AW Did you learn to read while you were in the states or before, also did you have any teachers?
AA - I played trumpet from 12 to 18 years of age also drums and Percussion and took some piano lessons so yes I knew how to read music (G clef and F clef). Like I said, i needed to learn how to read percussion rudiments, because in my country Peru, they were no books to follow, I was a self taught Drummer, so, when i was already working on recording sessions or playing shows, I asked for the piano part or the lead trumpet parts so I could play the musical ensembles or brakes or big band hits of the bands.
AW I have heard you performed many shows in Vegas, how did this come about, did you ever perform with a friend of mine who was the drummer for most of the major shows, MD for Elvis etc; as well as running a very successful agency – Bobby Morris?
AA - Yes, my first show I played at the International Hilton in Vegas was with Olivia Newton John. Later I also played with other acts like Ann Margaret. Sometimes I switched to play hand percussion when the acts brought their own drummers. When I played with Elvis 1973-1975, Elvis drummer was Ronnie Tutt. I never knew your friend Bobby Morris. AW: How did you become join Weather Report I remember seeing them many times with Slingerland endorsee – Peter Erskine? AA - When I was in Las Vegas a great percussionist, Don Alias, came playing with Lou Rawls. Don also played with Miles Davis in New York and became an endorsee with Slingerland drums and congas. He saw me playing Drums and Percussion at The Hilton in las Vegas and invited me to play with him in a new band with Miroslav Vitous and I said Yes. So I left the Hilton job/orchestra and we started gigging around the west coast playing with different groups like Willie Bobo also with Richie Beirach and David Liebman. Those gigs just lasted for about 3 months. I got a good taste of playing Jazz with great American Jazz Musicians. They later recommended me to Weather Report and I started on percussion - there is a Video recorded 1975 with me on it - WR at the Berlin Philharmonic concert Hall with Chester Thompson on drums, Alphonso Johnson on Bass and of Course Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter. I switched to play the drums when Jaco came to the band
in 1976 - there is also a live Video at the Montreux Jazz festival where i’m playing the drums with Jaco on Bass. In 1977’ we recorded Heavy Weather. And the rest is history!!!. AW Can you recall the audition what were you asked to play? AA - I have never auditioned in any place with any bands, I’ve been very Blessed or maybe never liked to audition for any one. But, my own family auditioned me when I was 10 years old and I passed the audition. But that was 65’ years ago.
AW What was it like to perform with the talented Jaco Pastorius? AA - Well, everybody knows Jaco - he was some kind of a prodigy who created and expanded new techniques and sounds very harmonically advanced on his instrument. I loved to play with Jaco because he was very musical had a great sense of time and of rhythms. He had a great photographic memory and was a very well read person. Jaco knew world History and Geography, Jaco went to a Catholic school and read music really well. The reason I know all of this is because I met him with Don Alias and when WR needed a bass player I recommended Jaco to record on Black Market, 1976. That was the record before Heavy Weather was made. We also were room mates, because he was coming to LA from Forth Lauderdale and I was coming from Las Vegas and WR was able to only provide one Hotel room on those days of course. Jaco Played good drums, piano and learned how to play soprano sax in a very short time. His favorites bass players were Cachao - Ron Carter and Andy Gonzales.
AW One would assume there were technical challenges ahead who did you approach them? AA - Do You mean HOW did I approach the technical Challenges? This is my answer to this question. I had mentioned that I used to listen to American Jazz big bands when I was a teen ager in my country of birth - Peru. Later I studied the Caribbean music in Puerto Rico where I lived for 9 years and also played all the South American Music really well, e.g. Brazilian, Uruguayan, Colombian, Venezuelan, Peruvian Of course and studied at the conservatory in San Juan PR. Meaning I had some musical training, I was just very truthful about music, and by the way, i’m still a student of this great art. WR was always a band who took chances and they were very open for the players to contribute with Musical statements- I have to say - Melody - Harmony - Rhythms and Composition which is Improvisation and very spontaneous, that was the essence of Weather Report. Yes Challenges were there and will always be in Music. I have never discarded this and is my personal statement. Music to me is a very powerful art/gift and also very spiritual at the same time, Its a Great gift from God!. Meaning we the real musicians need to recognize that, because its a serious commitment to carry such an incredible gift that changed and bettered my life and gave me a platform to travel as an ambassador to the world where I had the opportunity to meet and play and enjoy sharing this incredible gift, what do I mean about this? - One Thing only…I have to keep shining it by practicing to continue to give “God the glory”
AW: What are your thoughts working with a group of world class musicians, would did you learn? AA - Every time we have the opportunity to play with world class musicians its a learning process /time, mainly because they already have developed - they walk the walk and have their own music experiences.
I always like to ask them when some information is needed or just listen and observe their artistry. Im still working with those kinds of players right here in LA - Hollywood, there is an amazing opportunity to play with all kinds of amazing musicians, many of them with Classical background. Lately I‘ve been playing with the LA Phil and Dudamel as a conductor, also playing on lots of new Movies sound tracks where the recording sessions are performed with big orchestras at the big sound stages with composers like John Williams, Michael Giachinno, James Newton Howard, Alexadre Desplat, John Powell, David Newman, Heitor Pereira and many more. Sometimes, I have the opportunity to play with Herbie Hancock at the Hollywood bowl and in the past also played with Chic Corea, U2, Whitney Houston and so many more, it becomes an endless learning.
AW I think I am correct in saying you left the group after three years, Why? AA - Yes I left WR and many other bands or groups because I became a father when I was 22 years of age and I raised 5 children all together, meaning if I choose to be a father I have to be there raising them which I did and now our children are great people and very successful, they love each other and are working together and also gave us 9 beautiful grandchildren - yes this is my main answer about this question. Needless to say i’m a blessed and a rich person because everything I asked and wished and envisioned for my career and my personal life came thru. Still doing the same things now but at my home studio recording at this very moment movie sounds tracks and Cd’s of many and different artists. I’m not traveling any more and not playing gigs like I used to, because my life is very full of joy keeping my MMA training, Teachings on line, many of them are on DrumChannel.com, sharing my experiences by interviews like yours and praying for the whole world to be healed, with positive expectations of course.!!!
AW Who did you perform with after Weather Report? AA - also during WR tours and recordings, I was touring with Diana Ross - the main reason was because I wanted to build my reputation and my name in the industry that I was just touching the very bottom of it in Hollywood it was in the late 70’s and in the early 80’s I toured with Al Jarreau and Lee Ritenour - but it never lasted too long because I always wanna be closer to my family. In 1984 on one Trip with KOINONIA a great Christian Gospel - Latin Jazz group who was very popular in Scandinavia - we had the opportunity to bring our 5 children to Europe - England and Scandinavia, so our children can really see what I do for a living and they did and learned a lot about different cultures and languages. They had the opportunity to see the Berlin Wall and the Louvre in Paris, walk over piccadilly circle in London and tasted Indian food. BTW, There is also a Video of Koinonia 1984 at Montreux Jazz Festival, the concert started at 3am and my whole family came to see the concert, we had Bobby McFerrin as a guest singing with us.
AW Regarding equipment I see you endorse Yamaha I first met you when you joined Slingerland I think you were with them for 3 years, do you still use any of their drums?
AA - Yes I did play Slingerlands from 78 to about 81 and then Yamaha from 82 to 2005 and now Im playing DW drums for the last 15 years. No I’ve Never kept any drums from the past. Love to give them away, I have donated my drums sets mainly to Christian Churches around the world. One Yamaha’ set is in a church in Ukraine - others are at various cities of Peru and also here in LA and washington DC.
AW Any advice you wish to give to the next generation of drummers/percussionist’s
AA - Yes, when we recognize that this gift of music we have is awesome, the main love is to play it at all times, first because we love it. Personally I’m always practicing, listening, performing and being very thankful for this beautiful art. Also, I can say like many other musicians will, its one of the best professions there is, full of joy, work on different hours, doing the thing we love the most and still being recognized and appreciated all over the world. To get to a place like this is first believing, having dreams and visions and it will come to pass. If its genuine it will happen. Also with integrity by being early to practice to study to play well with others to share knowledge and to keep a high standard of the art. A real Musician won’t ever stop playing even if he starts to get the retired pensions. This is truth and I learned from my father a long time ago. When my father Fernando, knew that I was going too become a professional musician he told me all these things and its been the most real for me. It empowered and gave a conviction to be who I am right at this very moment of my life. He said because you love it I don’t have to tell you to go practice or why you’re not studying or developing - become a slave of this art and you will see that it will stop when the time is done!!!
AW Finally do you have any plans to release any new books or DVD’s
AA - Yes Im writing a book on Rhythms and also my journey as a musician in the present time. Many people might say to my story that Alex was full of luck, and I will say NO. Im Very blessed and thankful for the gift/platform God gave me. Giving thanks every time I have the chance to be thankful - I love this beautiful awesome art - MUSIC.
Thanks for the questions and I hope I did answer all of them properly.
Thank you for your time Alex much appreciated.