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An interview to
Alex Acuna

"People remember me, because I played with W.R. Jaco, Manolo, Wayne and Joe.
I'd never played before or after in any band that had the musicianship of this one"


1) Alex, many thanks first for giving us the possibility to have you as guest on our site. My first question is: on your website ( i saw a fantastic photo of you at childhood with your father (i guess), the look and the eyes of your father impressed me alot for its intensity. What are the more important things that you remember of your childhood? What their impact on your personality, and your music?

A: The one in the photo is not my father, it is my brother German and in this photo he is probably 17 years of age. He is the musician I admired the most in my family. When I was growing up I looked up to him a lot, because for him music was very easy to play and to do. So my brother German became my main influence. He plays the sax which is one reason why I like that instrument so much and know a lot about it and the playing of it. My favorite players are my bother German, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter.

2) Can you tell us something about your first approaches to the music, and percussion in particular?

A: I started playing at a very early age. I had an inclination to play the percussion and the drums because I was always fascinated with rythms. Music to me was and is a joyful art that has the power to transform my heart and not just percussion but music, the kind that really touches the soul.
I like to listen to all kinds of music; classical, all the great composers, jazz, latin, ethnic, from all the world etc..but only what I consider good to my personal taste. I like to listen to the master musicians of this world.

3) Why did you like and choose to play percussion?

A: I think percussion chose me, I like it for many reasons. When I play percussion I have a very physical contact with the instrument. I sweat and get a feeling that is impossible to describe with words. To me, it is like playing sports or working out, in addition to all the rythms that bring the fullfillment and enjoyment to my soul.

4) You was completely self-taught, or you studied music too?

A: I need to tell you that I come from a family of musicians and I started playing drums and percussion in a self-taught fashion, but I also used to play trumpet when I was 12 years of age and I learn how to read music; when I moved to the city and started to work in Lima-Peru as a professional musician playing drums and percussion I played all kinds of music and with all kinds of bands, later when I came to USA and moved to the Island I took it more serious and studied classical and latin percussion at the conservatory in San Juan Puerto Rico.

5) What are the musical genres and the musicians who mainly inspired you during your first years of activity as a musician?

A: I always like all kinds of music and that's the reason why I had been able to play all the different genres and with everybody as well, I'm still doing that and will do for the rest of my life.
My father and my brothers were the ones who isnpired me to play music at the beginning back in my country Peru.

6) What do you remember about your experiences with Perez Prado and Pablo Casals?

A: My expierence with Perez Prado was incredibly good, not only as a musician but also as a person he'd made a great impression in my life, first of all I have to thank him for the opportunity he gave me to come to USA with a contract and a green card, to play and tour for almost a year here in the States.
With Don Pablo Casals, I only met him while playing in the Casals Festivals in San Juan P.R. when he was conducting the PR Simphony.

7) Can you tell us something about the circumstances of your first encounter with Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, and the beginning of your collaboration with the Weather Report?

A: Joe call me one day when I was still living in Las Vegas in 1975 and said, hey Alex I heard you're bad, would you like to play with the band? and I said who is this? and he answer, this is Joe Zawinul, of course I was very impressed with the call because WR for me was the my favorite band of all times.
And later he came to met me in Las Vegas, we hang out that evening, talk about music and life, later he offered me to go to Europe in a tour with them and I said of course, so we made all the proper arrangements for me to go to Los Angeles and rehearse with the band, they're rehearsing at the frank Zappa Studios and they had in the stage every instrument I had ask and order, it was a great feeling.
When I arrived to studio they're playing great stuff, Joe, Chester Thompson, Alphonso Johnson.Wayne was writing music in a litlle table, for about 15 minutes I was just listening how good they play and later I went up and join them and play for another 15 minutes, it was great and it was real too.
After we finished playing, every body came to say hi and introduced themself and Wayne came to me and said this:"Alejandro if I were a percussionist I will play the way you play". I immediately begun to understand the body language and the different way of comunications that this giant musicians were displaying at me, no ego but only truth and honesty about every thing they were about, still they are like that this days, I'll keep in touch with Joe and Wayne and play in their new albums.

8) What were your first impressions when you joined the band?

A: How good they sound, musically speaking they were awesome and modern, comtemporary, something I never heard before, fresh sounding, Chester had a great drums sound and ability to play the instrument, and playing with a fresh aproach to the music like Alphonso's playing was very new and different to all the bass players I played with before.
Joe inside the Syntezis, instruments and sounds that were new to my ears. Their aproach to music was totally new for me, there was always a melody to follow but always with different beats, harmonies and sounds, that is why it is and was the only band in this world like that. What a privilege.

9) Whad do you remember about the first incarnation of WR you collaborated with, the one with Alphonso Johnson and Chester Thompson?

A: WR was a band that played something new and fresh also leading in modern music, although I don't think that was the reason why they played music, but it was natural and honest and great. Is like if you play with great players you also are going to sound great, of course you have to have a lot to offer too, Chester and Alphonso had all of that too.

10) And then Jaco Pastorius joined. What do you remember about his "impact" on the band?

A: WR, were auditioning bass players during the recording of Black Market, because Alphonso had an offer to have a solo career and as matter of fact I play on his first solo album. Jaco came from Florida, (it doesn't matter where you are or lived they'll find you. Just like they found me in Las Vegas, Jaco came from Miami) and already his name was getting around with a great reputation, when he arrived to Devonshire studios he brought his first record with him and gave it to Joe to listen to it, later we played on Cannonball, a song Joe wrote for Cannonball Adderley in the Black Market album.
Jaco sight read the tune and the take that is in the album it is the first take he played on the session the very first time. That is how I met Jaco.

Alex Acuna with Weather Report, 1977

11) In the Brian Glasser Zawinul biography, you said that Jaco wanted you as drummer and so he liked your way to play drums more that the one of Chester. Can you give us some particular about this?

A: Well, it seemed as though Jaco wanted to play with a drummer who played a different style. When we were rooming together at the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica blvd, we jammed in the room playing all the Wayne Shorter tunes that he wrote for the Miles Davis quintet and he was very impressed to see a Peruvian South American latin-brazilian percussionist playing and knowing these tunes.
By the way, I always liked Jazz and when I first came to NY in 1964 I used to go to the Village to listen to Miles. I never saw them playing live but I heard them from the street (the people at the club didn't let me in because I was under age). Since those days I discovered why I came to USA - I came to play jazz and I was doing it with WR.
Jaco told Joe that he wanted me to play the drums in the band. Joe said okay, maybe we'll use two drummers but Jaco said no. What I think happened is that there were personality differences betwen Chester and Jaco and in the end it turned out to be a blessing for Chester to leave the band because he got the Genesis gig with Phil Collins.
It is very hard for me to tell these stories like this. Jaco is dead and Chester is my brother in Christ and my dear friend. We love each other very much and respect each other a lot, our wives are best friends and our children also are best friends (they grew up together), so please take this side of the story as a story but not as gossip or any worldy - dark news. That is not my intention. All I'm trying to tell is what happened and I don't want to put anybody down or make less of what they really are. Chester is a great voice in this world of drumming.

12) There is a videotape of the Montreux 1976 jazzfestival that is one of the few documents about this WR period. In that concert you recorded also "Rumba Mama" with Badrena, the same recording that appears on the Heavy Weather album. What are your memories about this period?

A: In 1976 the band was beginning to get its own sound with that format, Manolo and I brought the modern latin playing in to the band, Jaco loved it because he had experienced this music before while living in Florida, Joe and Wayne also knew a lot about latin beats because they were very familiar with the times when latin music was very big around the sixties at the Palladium of NY, Tito Puente, Machito etc.
I personally learn a lot with Manolo, he is a great musician, one of the best percussionist of all times, with a very advanced approach to music in general.
Yes you are right they took a bit of that live performance in Montreux and gave us a composition in the Heavy Weather album.

13) Zawinul said that Jaco had a great role in the recording session of Heavy Weather. He was also very gifted as a sound engineer. You said that "Havona" was the tune you best loved. Can you tell us something more about these sessions?

A: Jaco had incredible ears for music and believed what Joe said about him, I'd never went ot any of the mixing sessions, but when we were doing the Heavy Weather album Jaco brought a lot of good music and fresh Ideas to the sessions.

14) What were your personal relationships with the band's members, especially with Zawinul, Shorter and Jaco?

A: Like I said before it has been great and a very strong friendship with Joe and Wayne, every time they have something for me to play they'll call me, Wayne moved to Florida and Joe is in Malibu, sometimes I go to see Boxing match to Joe's home and we have a lot of fun.
I had a great relantionship with Jaco, I also met his first family Tracy, Mary and John, we used to get together with our children in Fort Laudeldale, do a lot cooking, jogging and swimming together and of course play music at all the times.

15) Can you tell us some anecdote?

A: Yes, one day we were in Marseille-France and we took a tour to a little Island Chateau the EV (dont know the spelling) with Manolo, Jaco, Harvey Shapps (the road manager) and when we got there Jaco said to me Hey Alex lets swim.
I said Okay but we do not have any swimsuit, he said it's okay just jump and we did jump like Adam naked!! Swimming for about 30 minutes and later we had to come up from the mediterranean ocean and also we had to climb up a big wall and Manolo and Harvey had a little trouble climbing, Jaco and I had to tie our cloths and pull them up.

16) Why did you choose to leave the band?

A: Because It was very hard on my Family, a lot of traveling was not to good on any of us. So it was'nt because of the band or the music, the band was taking off and I saw the new acceptance of the audience's for the new W.R.
But also God was calling me to what I'm now. I'm a minister of the Word of God also an Evangelist and always will give a testimony of the Goodness of Jesus in my life, Please look at my site
You will comprehend why so many things happened in my life, I could be death just like Jaco is now. Just because the quality of life that there is in the music industry it was not made for Jaco or for me, we were crazy when we were out on the road.

17) After the WR collaboration you remained in contact with Zawinul, you collaborated also in the recording sessions of the recent album "My People". What do you think about the actual Zawinul music, and about the differences between the WR and Zawinul Syndicate music?

A: Yes, I also just recorded with Wayne in the last CD I think they're just finishing the mixes now, so I dont know the name of the new Cd yet.
Zawinul is and will always be a leading voice in music for the rest of mankind his music and compositions will remaind for ever.
I also had the opportunity to play with the Syndicate live here in LA, with Paco Sery and Matthew Garrison, later also with Manolo and Paco and Richard Bona.
Whatever Joe does it will be the greatest, he knows how to get out all your talent when you are performing with him.

18) You played with alot of musicians, even with the mythical Elvis Presley, and Paul McCartney, U2... What are the experiences that were most important for you?

A: I had been very Blessed, because my career as a drummer and percussionist has been very succesful, but for me Jazz has been the reason why I'm the USA, I know artist like Elvis, etc..are very big in the general audiences and they all gave me a great expierence, because music is very spiritual, but Heavy Weather is for me the biggest in history.
People remember me, because I played with W.R. Jaco, Manolo, Wayne and Joe. I'd never played before or after in any band that had the musicianship of this one, of course this is only my personal opinion. I'm still having great expierences with artist and music in general.

19) A question about your collaboration with Rich Lamanna for his "Introspective" project. This album is strongly inspired to Jaco and WR, what are the aspects of that music that best interested you?

A: Well, any thing that involves a tribute to any of my friends, I'll be there collaborating with and also I wanted to play with some of those musicians.

20) What can you say about your new album, "Rhythms for a new millenium", and about your projects for the near future?

A: I always wanted to make a recording like this one, It was nominated for the American Grammys which is different than the Latin grammys, all the players are top musicians and I had a lot of fun playing with such greats.
Maybe some day in the near future I will record all the drums and percussion tracks myself and do some of my Peruvian roots with the peruvian cajons etc. but right now I'm doing other things and also still very active on the studios and producing some new stuff for Alex acuna's production Co. at my own recording studio.
Right now I'm also doing a CD of one of my two bands "Alex Acuna & the Unknowns" Mixing my other band "Tolu" please check and preparing one of my very talented daughter "Regina" who you'll be able to hear of her very soon.

21) We know that religion is very important for you. Can you explain the reasons of this?

A: First of all let me correct this frase, I don't practice any religion.
And my Chistianity yes, it's very important to me, what is very important to me is my Personal relationship with the Allmighty through his Son and Our Savior Jesus Christ, if you can see in the Gospels of the Bible, that the religious people were the ones who sacrifice Jesus, per say the Saducces the Farisees, the Scribes etc..all of them were very religious people. I all ready explained why I'm a Christian, God is the one that will call us, when we really want him in our lives, when Jesus said Nock and I will open, Ask and I will answer, Seek and you shall find me. He really meant this, so I did and my life since 1978 has change for the better but not only my life but also my whole family from my parents thru my grand sons. God is Good.

Many thanks, Alex.

Alex Acuna Chronology

December 12, 1944

Alex Neciosup Acuna was born in Pativilca, Peru.


He plays in local bands and he's already famous locally.


He joins the Perez Prado's band for a tour in the U.S.A.


He moves to Las Vegas and plays with great musicians such as Elvis Presley and Diana Ross.


Joe Zawinul asks him to join the Weather Report band as percussionist of the band.


The Black Market album is recorded.Chester Thopson leaves the Weather Report, Acuna becomes the new drummer.


Heavy Weather recording sessions and tour.


Alex moves to Los Angeles. It's the starting point of a formidable career.


He played with a lot of famous musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald, Tracy Chapman, Whitney Houston, Bruce Willis, Yellowjackets, Chick Corea, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Carlos Santana, Julio Iglesias, U2, Christina Aguilera, Herbie Hancock, and many others.He won many awards and honors such as the Emeritius MVP and the "Readers Poll" for five years.

Many thanks to Ricardo Mazzi
The photos are courtesy of Alex Acuna

Read more about Alex Acuna




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