August 2004 CJA Network Newsletter Featured Interview

Drummer/ Percussionist Alex Acuna 

1) Alex, when did you start playing percussion and drums? Didn’t you study under Pablo Casals?

Alex:  I was 4 years of age when I started to play Drums & Perc and it has not changed after all this years I still do the same thing, Playing Drums and Percussion, maybe in a higher level but still is the same approach.  I was born in a musical family, My father was a music teacher and my 5 brothers are great musicians as well.

When I was studying at the conservatory in San Juan PR I played with the symphony orchestra under Don Pablo Casals directions,  when he conducted a couple pieces.

2) When did you start developing an interest for Jazz?

Alex: When I was around 9 years of age in the small town where I grow up, north of Lima there was a grocery store that played the radio station “Radio El Sol” by lunch time,  they played Classical music, Bach, Chopin, Strauss, Beethoven, Mozart etc,, also Some Cuban music, like the “Sonora Matancera” Tito Puente,  Perez Prado, then jazz like Satchmo, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie etc..

3) Who do you consider some of the main influences on your writing and playing Jazz?

Alex: this are some of my favor musicians who influence my writing and my playing:  Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Freddy Hubbard and John Coltrane.

As a drummer and percussionist also many others: Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Roy Haynes and Jack D’ Jhonette.

4) What are five Latin Jazz recordings you simply couldn’t ‘live’ without?!!!

Alex: Tito Puente Goes Jazz,  Irakere - Live at Montreaux, Tolu – Bongo de VanGogh – Rumberos Poetry , Eddie Palmieri - Masterpiece, Perez Prado and His Orchestra,  Descarga Boricua – esta Si Va,  Los Hijos del Sol – To My Country.

5) How did you meet up with the group Weather Report and share with us what it was like being in one of the most influential Jazz fusion bands ever?

Alex: I was living in Las Vegas and working at the International Hilton Hotel in 1974 for about a Year and Don Alias great Jazz musicians from NY saw me playing at a show with the Temptations and he recommended me to Joe and Wayne.  They hired me without an audition to do a European tour 1975. Later that year we recorded the  Black Market album.

WhenI started playing with Weather Reprot, it was like going to the highest level of musical education for me. It was better than any school I could have attended. My dream was fulfilled, because I use to listen to Wayne Shorter's playing and writing with Miles and Joe Zawinul's compositiosn and playing with Cannonball.  When I first heard them  in a recording in 1971 with WR -  that music changed my way of listening to jazz,  because today the band is still very modern in sound in harmonies and  when Jaco and Manolo came to the band the Heavy Weather Cd became a Classic  jazz album, now and for ever.

6) You also played in the Christian Jazz Group Koinonia back in the early 1980’s with Abe Laboriel and others. Share with us more about that group, what type of music you played as well where you played. ( did you play in churches. ect.?)           ( Note: we still get inquiries on whether Koinonia has CD’s available. They are out of print but we are planning on playing some of the tracks on Smooth Pizzazz Radio!)

Alex:  When I was still living in San Juan PR, there was a prophesy about Abe and I playing together, A person that new him and I met there told me on the spot that if I get to meet  Abe we were going to play together because of the similarity in how we play and feel music.

I came to LA and I met Abe at the baked Potato and we became very closed Friends and we did so many recordings and starter the Koinonia Band, we played at the BP,  at churches, TV’s Programs, Universities etc,,, the band was very popular in Scandinavia and tour very successfully in Europe,  I had the privilege to play and record 3 Koinonia CD’s. The band has a very special sound and style that I also like very much.  Also a special anointing of God is on the musicians and the music as well; our Lord Jesus is still the main focus in our lives! All the Glory and Honor to Him!

7) Tell us more about some of your more recent CD projects? Didn't you receive a Grammy award for " Best Traditional Tropical Album" back in 2000?

Alex:   With  my son Javier we made a Production company and now we are making our own products,  mainly because I want to play the music I love the most and we have  2 new Cds out and they’re available in my web page  Yes I did received a Grammy nomination in the year 2000 for my percussion Cd “Acuarelas de Tambores” Also two nominations in the Latin Grammy in the year 2002 for “Tolu” And “Los Hijos Del Sol” Recently we just put out a new Cd, Called:  “Alex Acuńa & the Uknowns” No Accent. Also I’m all ready preparing a Production of Latin Gospel CD and working in a couple live DVD’s of musicals and Teachings - Drums and percussion.

8) Alex, you also recently played on a CD with trumpeter Fletch Wiley (now a CJA Network member!) The title is  “ Ornament Of The Universe” and I believe it was recorded “live” in a church!  Tell us more about what that was like!!

AlexIt was great; I met Fletch long time ago when we used to record with Andrae Crouch around 1984.  Later he became a music minister and invited me to play in this recording it was a great night – a live performance concert.   But in general I love to play with great musicians and great people who are also sharing the same faith; mainly because when we are in one accord musically and loving and praising our Lord Jesus! That is definitely the best for me.

9) Share with us your most memorable experience playing Jazz at a church/concert and why.

Alex:  Recently I had been doing some music ministering in; Peru- San Juan PR, Spain, France, New Jersey, Brazil and Venezuela.  Got the opportunity to play with great players in these countries and churches, professionals and worshipers and I’m glad that our God is calling this great players to his kingdom,  So we can give our musical gifts back to him with  excellence. (1st Chronicle 15:18-22).

10) Do you find a spiritual connection in playing, arranging, and writing music? What kind of music touches you down deep?

Alex: For me, Music is definitely spiritual; music was made to worship GOD almighty. when I was growing up I was a self taught musician and I’m still learning every day how to play, write, arrange music etc,,, Most of the time, my compositions and improvisations have come to me spontaneously, like all of the sudden. I also know that it’s spiritual, because for a student like me, when I write new melodies or songs they come to me very different all the time.  In different styles; like when I was with Koinonia, I wrote according to that style of music, with Tolu also in that style, with Los Hijos Del Sol in my South American style and with the Uknowns likewise.   Because I desire to always glorify him,  I also receive this compositions and then I know that it is from God.  He is the main inspiration in my playing, my compositions, my writing and producing.

And that is what touches me down deeply!

11) What is your favorite church hymn and why?

AlexGreat Is Thy faithfulness, because by his mercy and grace I was saved!

12) What are your thoughts about the state of worship music today?

Alex: I think every nation should worship God with the music he has given to them, e.g. when in Africa play African divine music on to the Lord! When you in South America do the same with SA Music, etc.. The importance is that each nation should play and worship GOD with their heart, mind and soul!

13) It’s very exciting to see that Christian musicians are starting to play more jazz and integrate the music into worship settings in church. Do you get to play latin jazz in church very often?

Alex: Oh Yes;  Probably I was one of the first Percussion Player since the Andrae crouch dates and  Koinonia times that played the latin percussion instruments and latin styles in the churches and also very often I do concert at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys California where my  Pastor is Dr. Jack Hayford  - he is also a composer and a great mallet player. All my Christian friends have a background in jazz and are great and anointed players too’. (By the way, please discern very carefully that what I’m saying or commenting is not a self glorifying thing!)

14) Share with us a Bible verse that has helped shape your outlook on Music in the church and why?

Alex:  James 1:17-18

Psalms 40:1-11 and 16.

Because it helped me to understand about my salvation my calling and the  purpose of my life; why I’m in this world and for what reason God gave me the gift of music, to be a true worshiper at all times.

I want to be a worshiper like King David. 

(And like the apostle Paul said; pray at all times and pray without ceasing).

(I’ll say "Play and (practice without ceasing")!

 Blessings to all the readers and musicians of this world!

Alex Neciosup Acuńa.