Interview by Gary France
Percusscene Front Cover Feature
11 October 2014
Alex Pertout is recognized as one of Australia’s leading percussionists and with credits on hundreds of albums, soundtracks and jingles is undeniably one of Australia’s most recorded musicians. His playing has graced number one charting singles and albums and many award winning recordings. He has also attained credits as a member of numerous television orchestras, theatre orchestras, in countless live performances covering a wide musical spectrum, as a creative improviser, author, recording artist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, sound recordist and record producer. He has also established himself as a respected educator and is a Senior Lecturer and Head of Contemporary Music Performance at the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts, The University of Melbourne, Australia.
GF: Alex can you please tell me about your background when did you start playing?
AP: I was born in Santiago Chile, my musical recollections were of my parents singing as they were very much into music and especially opera. My mother was a soprano, my father was an amazing collector of music, opera, Argentinian zamba, chacarera, Paraguayan harp music, Brazilian samba, Chilean cueca and indigenous Mapuche music, Slovenian folk, Italian Neapolitan songs, Russian folk, Mexican mariachi songs, his tastes were so broad ranging and I remember hearing these at home on a daily basis. He also loved to sing, he was a passionate aficionado.
My father was Slovenian and after World War II left Europe to visit his auntie who lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, then in his adventurous ways travelled around South American for 25 years reaching areas of the Amazon in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and finally settling in Santiago, Chile which is where I was born. When I was about 12 in the early 1970s we moved to Italy. My father’s mom was living there, a place called Gorizia right in the frontier between Italy and Slovenia (Yugoslavia at the time) and we lived with her for a few years. The trip to Italy itself was an incredible experience as we travelled by ship via the South American coast visiting various cities in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia then through the Panama Canal to Venezuela, Curacao, Canary Islands then on to Europe.
Reflecting on that I believe that was the beginning point of my music interests and early development. I also still have a pair of beautiful maracas my father bought as a souvenir in Colombia! While in Italy I started listening to a daily national radio program that played Latin American music, it was called Quadrifoglio. The program was fantastic, the range of music I was exposed to in this short daily program was actually incredible. The host would play Tito Puente, Sergio Mendes, Los Panchos, Violeta Parra, Mon Rivera, Los Davalos, Quilapayun, Santana, it would go from mambo, to samba, to lando, cueca, chacarera, marinara, mariachi styles, polka from Paraguay, cumbia and she was incredibly articulate and knowledgeable in her descriptions of styles, instrumentation used and the artists and recordings, it was a great introduction for me.
As I used to record this program on a daily basis onto cassette, it became a little library of Latin American styles, I now realise how amazing this whole period was musically speaking. Did you actually did not have any formal training in Italy? No, not at that stage, there was an interest in actually reconnecting with my Latin American roots while I was in Italy, then when we moved to Australia a few years later, that is when I began to play.
GF: What year did you move to Melbourne, Australia?
AP: We arrived in mid 1972, by then I was listening heavily to the Latin American material I had gathered and I had also become aware of the Santana band which at the time was popular around the world with its interesting mix of Afro-Latin percussive sounds, Spanish and English lyrics and rock.
GF: When did you start to play?
AP: When I was about 15 my dad bought me a conga and I started to play-a-long to records, technically though I had no real idea at the time of the sounds and rhythmic repertoire, it was all purely instinctive. My father was running a restaurant in Carlton at the time and apart from helping him a bit I would have my congas there and play a few sets with the pianist. We performed all sorts of styles which I would accompany as best as I could. At that time I started studying with Harold Ripper. Although not a hand drummer Harold taught me much about sticking, syncopation and sight-reading which I developed on conga. Later I was fortunate to meet John Litchen, at the time he was the most informed conga player in Melbourne and so I began to study with him.
GF: What kind of congas were you playing then?
AP: I had a beautiful trio of gon bops congas, in the 1970s they were extremely popular around the world. A few years later after I saw Santana at Rockarena in Melbourne in 1977 I had to buy a pair of LP white fiberglass congas!
GF: Did you play with sticks at this time?
AP: Yes I was developing a few areas at the same time. Apart from studying with Harold and John I was also studying a little with Barry Quinn who was the principal percussionist with the MSO. He would also show me sticking ideas plus some general studies for sticks and mallets.
GF: After high school did you apply for an undergraduate course to study music? AP: No, I actually left school to join a band, the Savanna Silver Band. The band was breaking into the scene and so we played and toured a lot. We also did a record produced by the legendary drummer, engineer and producer Gil Matthews from Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs fame recorded at Armstrongs Studio 2. We were on the road for a few years playing all over the place, it was an amazing experience for me, playing congas, timbales and percussion in this band. We also played support for all sorts of bands as well, Blondie, Taj Mahal, The Angels, it was a great era of the Australian music scene and we were part of that performing nationally, inspiring.
GF: And so you were constantly playing and also developing your skills at the time?
AP: Yes while I was in the band I was always trying to develop new material. I use to transcribe a lot, and then I would seek information from any players that happened to be touring Australia, that is how my friend Peter Grech and I met Raul Rekow from the Santana band. He became our dear friend and mentor and I am proud to say that 33 years later we are still in touch. As a matter of fact he just recently came over to my house for a family lunch while he was in Melbourne with Santana. Raul was a very important part of my percussive development. He joined Santana for the Festival album which features some beautiful conga playing. He represented the new generation, a leading force in a new generation of congueros. In the late 1970s and 1980s the Afro-Latin percussion information in Australia was quite hard to obtain first hand, a lot had to be developed by personal transcriptions. My friend Peter and I spent a lot of time trying to meet players to obtain information. In those days there were no cds, videos, dvds all we had were records and cassettes which we would replay over and over again.
GF: So around this period what were you listening to? Who were your influences?
AP: Apart from Santana records which feature Armando Peraza, Chepito Areas, Mingo Lewis and later Raul Rekow, I had also discovered the great Mongo Santamaria records as well as releases by Cal Tjader, Ray Barretto, Tito Puente, Sergio Mendes with Rubens Bassini, Paulinho Da Costa and Laudir De Oliveira, the brilliant Airto Moreira and Ralph McDonald among others. I was seriously eager to find recordings, these were the source for me. There were some great record shops around in those days that would obtain special imported pressings of rare or just hard to obtain records for me, this was the way to learn you would listen, transcribe, play and practice.
GF: Who did you see Airto playing with?
AP: I saw Airto many years later, this was in Melbourne with Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra which not only featured him but also Giovanni Hidalgo and Ignacio Berroa. I used to collect Airto’s albums, which to this day are still beautiful. He would record some marvelous pieces with lots of interesting free form improvisations and also some amazing rhythm section tracks, often containing multiple overdubs achieving massive sounds. He also featured the berimbau a lot, which is where I discovered it, on his recordings, I soon made myself one as it was impossible to obtain one in those days. It is still is one of my favourite percussion instruments.
GF: Did you have the opportunity to study internationally during any of this time?
AP: Not at that time. I was purely transcribing from recordings and developing the material.
GF: And how were you transcribing these percussive ideas?
AP: I basically worked out a way of notating that suited me. Due to my studies with Harold my understanding of syncopation and rhythmic notation was quite advanced and so I was able to write the various parts, work a way of placing the notes depending on the amount of drums used and then add letters corresponding to the drum sounds on top. Sometimes it would take a long time to figure out as transcribing from vinyl was quite hard, you would often you ended up using your index finger on the drive of the turntable to slow the tempo of a tune down a little! I have a large record collection and when I look at it now I realise how crucial this personal library was in my musical development.
GF: Tell me more about the late 1970s and 1980s period, who were some of the drummers that you grew up with and worked with?
AP: After my period with the Savanna Silver Band things developed quite quickly for me. I started getting calls for recording sessions and various performances working with drummers such as John Annas who had developed quite a reputation by his work with the Kevin Borich Express at the time. I was also doing sessions with great players such as Graham Morgan, Ron Sandilands and David Jones and soon after the legendary saxophonist Brian Brown called me to join his group which at the time featured Virgil Donati. Brian had this beautiful way of making music, creative music. His contemporary jazz ensemble was based on his philosophies on improvisation, creating music in the moment. It was a wonderful experience which opened my world. He had this beautiful way of making you feel at ease, allowing you to contribute creatively to the output at all times. Brian of course later founded the ‘Improvisation Program’ at the VCA. I worked with Brian for years, I even produced one of his albums in the late 1990s.
GF: Did you eventually study at the VCA?
AP: Yes, Brian knew that I wanted to study and while I was playing with him he actually showed me a template of what he was working on, a jazz program that he was going to establish at the VCA. When it was established I auditioned and I was accepted into the first intake of the program. It was a great time for me. I was studying an array of areas including areas of percussion I wanted to develop such as vibes, glockenspiel, marimba and piano as well as areas of orchestral percussion. While in the course apart from learning so much from Brian and Tony Gould, I also studied with Barry Quinn who was the head of classical percussion at the time.
GF: At VCA were you able to play your world percussion as part of the undergraduate course?
AP: Yes of course, I was accepted into the course as a world percussionist, so I was basically one of the drummers in the ensembles and I would also develop these other areas such as mallets for my ensemble and recital presentations. Brian was extremely inspirational here. Brian was interested in the personal voice aspects of each individual, he was incredibly serious about that aspect, he encouraged everyone one of us in the course to find an individual journey via personal recitals which were immerse in original compositions. It really opened a new world for me, it shaped a strong leadership attitude. Apart from my contributions to ensembles and individuals as a percussionist, I was also developing this personal side and I did that for the three years of the program. It helped me immensely. After graduating Brian would ask me to come in and take a few classes, a percussion class, a workshop here and there, an ensemble class.
GF: And how did your career developed after college?
AP: Well while I was at VCA I was already getting lots of calls for recording sessions plus performances in diverse genres, it just took off from there, I was also starting to get calls from television orchestras and so I was working on many tv shows, live on air playing an array of instruments. It was fully written material and you could be playing hand percussion, glock, vibes or timpani, that was that scene, and I ended up doing that for decades, working with some outstanding musical directors like Graeme Lyall, Jack Westmore, Ross Burton, Greg Mills and Daryl McKenzie. During that period there were also lots of American, English and Australian producers who would work with many of the successful and up and coming pop and rock acts of the time and I got to work on hundreds of sessions with artists such as the Little River Band with John Farnham, Goanna, Pseudo Echo, Kids In The Kitchen, Redgum, Hunters & Collectors, The Black Sorrows, Mondo Rock, Powderfinger, James Reyne, Daryl Braithwaite among a host of others, as well as film soundtracks such as Crocodile Dundee, Lilian’s Story, Last Days Of Chez Nous, Lightning Jack, among others.
GF: And that continued with recording sessions, television as well as performances?
AP: Yes, that period was an extremely healthy period for the professional recording scene, which existed, and I was immersed. I also got to do some theatre work during that period which I enjoyed. Of course years later I had the opportunity to take part in an extremely successful season of The Lion King at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne on which I had a fantastic time performing eight-shows a week for a year! Other musical areas I kept on developing with individuals such as Brian Brown, Tony Gould, Jeff Pressing who had formed an interesting odd-times ensemble that also dealt with crossover world styles, specifically West African derived and Paul Grabowsky with whom apart from playing on his various projects which consisted of film sessions he was scoring, a band here and there and a television show where he was the musical director called ‘Tonight Live’. Around 1993 Paul developed the Australian Art Orchestra of which I am a founding member, that has been another extremely beneficial experience in my career.
GF: As a prominent member of the Australian Art Orchestra you have also engaged in many styles of music can you tell us about these experiences?
AP: I have had some amazing experiences and opportunities to further develop as part of the AAO. The first performance was part of the Melbourne Festival and it continued from there. We have performed around Australia, major cities and rural areas, we have toured parts of Europe playing in England, Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic and Finland, performed in Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and India. The musical experiences in terms of repertoire and artist’s associations have been incredible. We played in New Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta in 1996 with the master Karaikudi R Mani and TV Vassan as special guests, that association is still active and I have personally learned so much from Sri Mani. He has taught the AAO formally and informally over the years, of course I have also taken the opportunity to invite him to the VCA on a number of occasions to partake in masterclasses and concerts which have been outstanding to say the least. His percussive knowledge coming from the South Indian Carnatic system has been incredibly inspirational and I have been developing some aspects of it over the years incorporating it into my percussive techniques and repertoire. The AAO has also engaged in large scale works part written and part open allowing the contingent of outstanding improvisers in the ensemble to bring their personal artistic touch to all the projects. A wonderful and special ensemble. Among other projects we also successfully toured around the country with Paul Kelly, playing his compositions arranged by Paul Grabowsky for the orchestra, this was yet another great experience.
GF: Recently you’ve completed some major academic study can we discuss your research conducted at the ANU?
AP: I completed a Master of Philosophy in Music degree at the Australian National University. It was an incredible academic research program for me which took me back to not only analysing the conga drum’s background, technique and the contribution of master drummer Mongo Santamaria, but also forward into the areas of new developments in construction and technique as applied to conga drumming nowadays. My thesis is titled The Conga Drum: Development, Technique, Styles, Improvisations and the contribution of Master Drummer Ramon ‘Mongo’ Santamaria. The findings for me were a revelation of sorts and it supports my continued passionate interest in hand drumming, techniques and styles. Of course I have to thank you Gary as my main academic supervisor at the ANU for your interest and overall support of my research. I must say I loved my time at the ANU. It was great to be part of that academic environment, the research seminars and the overall interest and support my research area received.
GF: Please tell us about the conga drum technical developments?
AP: The technique has changed drastically, the hands are now developed through the incorporation of drumming rudimental material which incorporates singles and doubles as well as flams and drags. Not that this type of material might not have been incorporated by players in the past, is just that the way it has been developed it opens up a whole new world of possibilities. For a start the double stroke is not played as two single strokes per hand, as many used to integrate and sometimes struggled to get it to fast speeds, but rather it incorporates the ‘palm/ fingers’ technique which to me is exactly as the moeller stick technique, thus allowing for a flowing double stroke which is achieved by one stroke, that in itself which takes quite a while to develop properly, is at the roots of the new era of conga drumming technique.
GF: Who are the major exponents of this new style of playing?
AP: Incorporating rudiments one would have to say Giovanni Hidalgo along with Richie Flores, Paoli Mejias, Anthony Carrillo and others, as far as the basis of the technique it would have to be Jose Luis Quintana known as ‘Changuito’. Through my research at ANU I was able to discuss these developments with many outstanding players and teachers including David Ortiz who was responsible for teaching Giovanni, Richie and Anthony when they were in their early teens.
GF: And now that you are Head of Contemporary Music Performance: Improvisation at the VCA, you have the opportunity to influence a whole new generation of young people. What advice can you give to the young people that you meet today?
AP: Well my VCA experience, as Head of the Contemporary Music Performance: Improvisation Department for over 13 years, has allowed me to take an active and leading role in the ongoing curriculum development area which takes a look at new areas and expanding existing areas of musical development, specifically in the areas of creative contemporary music performance which for us has a strong emphasis on improvisation skill development. This takes place in ensemble, large ensemble repertoire as well as in our specialised ‘Improvisation Materials’ classes which is where the students delved into an array of areas of improvisation development. Here we have rhythmical improvisation classes which I take looking at cells and other rhythmic concepts for improvisation, experimental free-form improvisation classes, others that connect with certain world music cultures, for example MiddleEastern, South Indian Carnatic, and others that may look at standards and the jazz language. All these experiences inform the individual, it’s an exciting prospect. My advice for the young up and coming musician is the same as my advice for the undergraduate student, have an open mind, research at all times, respect and learn from all sorts of areas, engage and experiment and incorporate new findings into your ever-developing musical language. Make sure to practice and organise regular times to develop all the new materials and to keep on developing older ones as well, and as we do in the VCA undergraduate program take up the piano and develop your harmonic language, a must, no matter what instrument you play. The other area that is crucial as far as I am concerned is the recording area. When I was growing up I started by recording my playing overdubbing from a cassette player to another cassette player, that was my way of adding tracks! By the time you had complete this task a few times you were adding lots of hiss noise along with it, so it wasn’t ideal, but it was my early ways of achieving this. Eventually I upgraded to a four-track reel to reel recorder, then 8 track, finally reaching 24 with Adats a few decades later. Nowadays I record using pre-amps and a laptop based Cubase and I am able to do complete projects which I love. I believe that this is an incredible area which everyone needs to follow. We teach a popular elective as part of the undergraduate program that deals with this, laptop recording. The established and up and coming artist should be working on their personal material and releasing this, which nowadays can be instantaneously released worldwide which is incredibly exciting. That is part of the career for the new player, the new artist, yes you can freelance, do lots of diverse projects but also make sure to develop your personal music, produce and release it.
GF: What projects do you currently have going?
AP: I have a few areas developing right now. Apart from my work at the VCA as a senior lecturer and head of a large department which is challenging in itself, I am also involved in recording different personal projects. I have a percussion album which I have been developing for a number of years and which I would like to release at some stage soon, this projects is percussion only and features an array of diverse original pieces as well as performances with some of my esteemed percussive friends from around the world including Raul Rekow, Bill Summers, David Jones and Pete Lockett. I am also doing sessions for various artists on which I record and perform the percussive parts myself in my home studio then send them back across to the artists. I did the last Powderfinger album this way and have done others. I do enjoy this way of contributing to recording projects and hope to continue. Of course I also run various personal websites so I spend time updating and developing those. Nilusha and I also run a label called ‘Whispering Tree Music’ which is distributed by MGM/The Planet and which releases our productions worldwide. And of course I am always developing educational book ideas, following on the success of my ‘Sight Reading: The Rhythm Book’ which has been out there nationally and internationally for decades thanks to Frank Corniola and Musictek and my association with the great US company Mel Bay Publications Inc.
GF: I know the album ‘Moments In Time’ from your project Alex & Nilusha has been well received, what are you up to with that project? Is there a new recording in the horizon?
AP: Yes, we are recording right now and have been developing songs for a new cd. Our last album was very well received as you stated, with great reviews and much airplay, especially on the ABC here which has been great for us and slowly opening up in other territories. For our new album we just recorded three tracks with the legendary guitarist Mike Stern which we are extremely excited about. One of those tracks we will probably release soon as a single to promote the future album release. We have also been actively performing in a trio or quartet format which has been an attractive new way of performing live. Extremely exposed while at the same beautifully challenged by that as well. We just performed at the the Brunswick Music Festival, the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, we are going to Canberra for the Capital Jazz Festival in early August there, in September playing in Albury for the Murray Conservatorium and performing some special concerts at The Salon at the Melbourne Recital Centre in September and November. For me this project is extremely viable and it opens all sorts of opportunities for performances and recording releases which I truly treasure.
Alex & Nilusha Tales To Tell
Interview by Andrew Ford
ABC Radio National
The Music show
11 October 2014
Andrew: Alex is Alex Pertout and Nilusha is Nilusha Dassenaike, Alex on the album itself you've got an almost absurdly impressive line up of musicians, maybe we should talk about that, I mean Mike Stern!
Alex: Yes Mike Stern, it started quite plain just myself and Nilusha, it slowly developed, it grew and it grew. And we travelled and as we travelled we recorded different players, Mike Stern joined us when he was here for the jazz festival, and we invited him to play on a few tracks, he ended up playing on three, and every time we see him, we saw him in New York a couple of times, he wants to play on more tracks, so we developed a beautiful association with him now.
Andrew: He is a nice man too.
Andrew: Now the last time you were on the show we were talking about in particular the Sri Lankan folk roots of the music Nilusha, it seems to me that the music on this album is in a whole new stage of development, you jumped ahead somewhere.
Nilusha: Yes we sort of have developed the ideas and I think when we recorded the last album I was finishing my Masters of Philosophy in Sri Lankan folk music and we've had a couple of years to really cement the ideas and developed them so with this album I am really pleased to be able to present Sri Lankan folk music in this fashion. The sort of synthesis is rare, because usually Sri Lankan folk music is performed with just drums and voice and in a very traditional setting, it is not very often that is taken out of that traditional setting and presented in a new way so I a, really, really excited about this.
Andrew: So we've got the drums and voice, I mean we are talking to you both, you are the drums and voice, and so everything else is sort of added, how do you know what to add?
Nilusha: I think I just look for the colours and in terms of dressing up or the harmony that I surrounded it by, I just govern it by the various arranging technique I implement, I might just do things intervalic or with shapes or colours, at the end of the day it's about the colours and with the instrumentation just sort of grows from there and I have a really great producer that I work with, Alex Pertout, he's got such a huge catalogue of sounds that he brings to the arrangements.
Andrew: And so what you are saying is that when you bring in a guest musician, like Mike Stern for instance, it's as much as anything the colour that you are after, his electric guitar has a very special sound.
Alex: Oh yeah, Mike can play one note and we know it's Mike Stern. And that is what he brought to the music and we knew that it was going to be something special. A similar thing took place in 'The King's Lament' for example, I asked my friend Hossam Ramzy to play some Egyptian percussion, he recorded some percussion in his London studio and it sounds beautiful, and is one of those things that I could hear prior to him playing on the track, I mean I already knew that his part was going to fit in beautifully.
Andrew: And then when you take the show on the road, or indeed come in to the music show and elect to play 'The King's Lament' which you are going to do in a few minutes time and you don't have Hossam Ramzy what happens. Is he still a sort of presence in the song?
Alex: Of course, he is there and he is there also in the approach that Thomas and I will take on the song, with the drums and percussion we try to assimilate some of the sound of the track, but you know we also have to be quite versatile in the way we present the music and we have to think of creative approaches to the repertoire. Sometime we play as a trio, sometimes as a quartet, with diverse musicians and so we have to think about that a lot.
Andrew: We mentioned a few weeks ago that we were going to have you on the show, in fact we said we were going to have you in next week and that was something like three weeks ago, and because we left it so long that Nilusha you've actually had time to release another album.
Nilusha: That's right, that's right! (laughs)
Andrew: Very briefly could you tell us about the solo album
Nilusha: Sure it's called 'The Lotus Verses' and it really is an extension of the idea I was talking about before of a synthesis of Sri Lankan folk music with contemporary jazz and improvisation.
Andrew: Right and there is a performance coming up which I will tell our listeners in a moment, but first if all you are going to perform for us again, without Hossam Ramzy (laughs) you are going to perform 'The King's Lament' and you can find this on 'Tales To Tell' but here it is live.
Alex & Nilusha: Thank you.
Alex & Nilusha Tale Tellers
Interview by Greg Phillips
Australian Musician Magazine
Alex Pertout and Nilusha Dassenaike, who record and perform as Alex & Nilusha, have just released their second album ‘Tales To Tell’, a high quality, rhythmic and melodic, world music feast. The duo kindly invited Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips into their home to discuss the creation of the album and their musical paths to date.
Alex Pertout is not only a world-class percussionist and composer but also a keen percussion historian and teacher. Pertout’s percussion credits can be found on countless significant Australian recordings by Little River Band with John Farnham, Daryl Braithwaite, Hunters & Collectors, Mondo Rock, Powderfinger and Goanna among hundreds of others. He has appeared in numerous television bands, worked on major film soundtracks, live theatre productions, is part of the Australian Art Orchestra and is a Senior Lecturer and Head of Contemporary Music Jazz & Improvisation at the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts. His partner, Nilusha Dassenaike is an incredibly gifted vocalist, songwriter, arranger, enthusiastic musicologist and also lectures at the Victorian College of the Arts. Together as Alex & Nilusha, they are an amazing recording and performing duo utilising their South American and Sri Lankan backgrounds to blend music worlds into a captivating mix of jazz, soul, Latin American, Southern Asian and Eastern uplifting rhythms. Their recently released second album, ‘Tales To Tell’ is the true embodiment of the world music genre, not only showcasing rhythms from around the globe but literally recorded around the world. It also features respected musicians from all points of the compass too. But what are the origins of this album? Australian Musician asked the talented duo.
Who were your musical heroes growing up?
Alex: Lots of heroes, but they also change and develop over time. I grew up listening to the Santana band, and the Santana band helped me discover a lot of other people. During their ‘Caravanserai’ era for example they were playing pieces such as ‘Stone Flower’ by the great Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, so I had to find out more about Jobim, they were playing ‘Welcome’ by John Coltrane and so it made me enquire about Coltrane’s work and so on. Then there was an album Carlos Santana recorded with John McLaughlin, the band’s connection with Tito Puente’s music, tracks such as ‘Oye Como Va’, as a 14 year old boy listening to these sounds, it really opened my eyes and my musical world. The early Sergio Mendes records were inspirational for me and so was the incredible artistry of Miles Davis. Later I also discovered Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, Pat Metheny and as you keep listening you keep discovering, Richard Bona for example, I just love his productions, wonderful albums. To relate a connecting encounter, we were in New York walking to a place and instead of going a certain direction we turned walked the opposite way and walked right into this tiny jazz club in the Village. Sitting at the bar was Richard Bona, we approached him as we actually had opened for him at the Recital Centre in Melbourne many years earlier. He told us that he was playing at this club for next three nights, so we ended up at that club every night, it was beautiful. We had a chat and asked about the possibility of discussing areas such as recording and production with him. He then invited us to his studio in Brooklyn where he played material he was working on and discussing the various ways he records and arranges his wonderful productions, it was a revelation and also a confirmation of the areas I admire and follow and what a way to spend time with an artist you admire, it was incredible.
Nilusha: He is somebody that both of us admire. For the same reason and for different reasons. On every album he does a beautiful vocal arrangement for one voice (his) and will overdub gorgeous, luscious harmonies. On our new album, the track ‘Sapphire’ I wanted to do a piece in homage to that or reflected that notion. What was really striking was how open and giving he was of information
Alex: He was discussing recordings areas as an engineer would, like if you record a vocal here and you double it up, then I would normally do this and so on, you know after listening to his records so much, it was rather surreal to be there, in his environment, it was an amazing experience for us as we have listened to his music for years, and he was so generous and helpful, a beautiful man and an outstanding artist.
Nilusha, growing up in Melbourne, were you surrounded by music? Was anyone else in your family a singer?
Nilusha: Not really. My dad was in a like a little rock band when he was a teenager but never had any formal training. We used to listen to a lot of music and he was interested in jazz and fusion. I guess I grew up listening to variations of jazz. He used to make me listen actively to music and isolate instruments as we listened. He’d say can you hear what the bass is doing? Can you hear what the keyboardist is doing? You know, it was deeper listening, not just hearing the stuff on top. So that informed the way I listen to music. That kind of listening helps you with your aural training and what the roles in an ensemble are. But nobody in my family has gone on to become a professional performer.
You have an amazing vocal capacity but you don’t feel the need to sing ALL the notes. It’s more about the song. Is that fair comment?
Nilusha: Ultimately yeah. I see it in terms of what’s appropriate. I think that comes with maturity. If you had heard me when I was younger, everything had to be out there and big. I had a lovely mentor when I was coming up, Andy Sugg, he’s a beautiful jazz saxophone player and I happened to do a fill in gig with him one night, which led to many years of performing together. He really mentored me through learning jazz repertoire and how to be a better musician. He sat me down one day and said, look I get it, you just want to explode on every song and he said you could kind of take it back a little bit and choose the areas where you can do that. I still didn’t get it at the time but it has come through playing experience. He thought the sky was the limit for me, which was really lovely. But yes, I think about what is appropriate for the song and for the moment.
On the album there are a couple of variations on Sri Lankan folk songs. Do many explore those Sri Lankan folk songs and is it actually something that’s OK with the community to meddle with the tradition?
Nilusha: In a word yes … because Sri Lankan folk music is so obscure that a lot of Sri Lankans don’t even know about it. It is quite rare to hear Sri Lankan folk music let alone the blending of Sri Lankan folk music with Australian jazz. It’s buried beneath the political and religious forces, it’s also a social thing. A lot of the folk tunes came from and are performed by practitioners from traditional drumming families and they are from a lower caste of the Sri Lankan social hierarchy. This stuff is centuries old. I mean the social hierarchy has now disbanded. They have now set up courses in universities that teach a little bit of the folk music. But still, a lot of the music which is taught in Sri Lanka is Indian music, particularly northern.
Alex: Nilusha completed a Masters of Philosophy in Music at the ANU and her research was based on Sri Lankan folk music. We travelled to Sri Lanka a couple of times and we visited traditional music makers, drummers and vocalists, all involved heavily in the continuous development and promotion of folk music, so Nilusha has this incredible background due to her extensive and serious research. Nilusha has an album to be released soon which I have produced and which is inspired by that tradition, it is titled ‘The Lotus Verses’. And if I may say, it gives Nilusha a really special place, because apart from being a very gifted and versatile contemporary vocalist covering an array of genres, she has also developed and has incorporated this special Sri Lankan style in her own way, which is rather unique, a beautiful sound.
And Alex, you grew up in Chile?
Alex: I grew up in Chile but what took place in my development, was that we moved to Italy when I was about 11 years old. While in Italy one of the things I still remember to this day is that I used to listed to the national Italian radio RAI that had a short daily program that played Latin American music, now I don’t know why an 11 year old boy was listening to this radio station and recording the programs on a daily basis, I was kind of developing the future area of research already. I used to tune in every day and they would play about fifteen minutes of Latin American music, the host was also incredibly knowledgeable about the styles and the artists and they range from Sergio Mendes to Tito Puente, Santana, Violeta Parra, Perez Prado, Mon Rivera, Chilean music, Peruvian, Brazilian, Cuban, Paraguayan, Argentinian and that is where I heard for the first time many of the instruments I have been researching and developing skills on now for decades. Then after we arrived in Australia I kept the interest and started learning conga drums, Afro Cuban, Caribbean and Afro Brazilian rhythms, soon after I was playing in bands. Later I developed my skills further incorporating some orchestral percussion instruments and I began to work as an all-round percussionist working with television orchestras, sessions, films, etc. My interests were always fairly broad ranging and so I kept on learning more and more about diverse percussion techniques from around the world. In 1996 as a member of the Australian Art Orchestra we toured India, which in turn led me to a new area of rhythmic development. This research of mine has always being wide in range, international, it also has led me back to my Chilean roots and styles from the Andean region. As an example on our new record, the first track ‘Nothing To Hide’ has a very Andean sound and I even play the zampoñas or pan flutes on the first track, which come from that region of north Chile, Peru and Bolivia. I am also currently really interested in the mbira, which is an African thumb piano. I started researching the mbira and found this particular version from Zimbabwe called the nyunga nyunga mbira which I love and have started to develop skills on this instrument, as a matter of fact it features on a few tracks but specially on our version of two traditional tunes ‘Nemamusasa / I Gave my Love A Cherry’. This song closes the album.
The album 'Tales To Tell' was recorded all over the world. Was that the idea from the start?
Alex: Not really, it just developed in that fashion consequently recording parts in the US, Cuba, Argentina and England. We recorded tracks and then as I was building them a particular person would come to mind. Edsel Gomez for example who plays the captivating piano solo on ‘Nothing To Hide’, well we saw him years ago with Dee Dee Bridgewater and he was outstanding, then we met him in Singapore while we were there for the Mosaic Music Festival and we struck a conversation, as we were developing this track I kept thinking about his playing and how it would suit this piece and when we travelled to New York we contacted him and arranged a recording session, his contribution is superb. Another example is when we started recording Nilusha’s ‘The King’s Lament’ I kept hearing my friend Hossam Ramzy, a remarkable Egyptian percussion master based in London on the track. I kept hearing his beautiful touch on the Egyptian tabla in the song. The funny thing is that after I asked him to play on the track, he proceeded to record in his London studio and sent me a whole lot of parts but no Egyptian tabla. So I asked “Hossam do you mind sending just one more file featuring yourself on the Egyptian tabla on this track?” He said, “well Alex, of course you are the producer, you are hearing that sound on the track, I will record that part for you and send it,” and it’s perfect for the song. A funny thing happens to me when I delve into producing a record and it’s probably a common producer thing, you are listening to the tracks constantly, for hours and hours as you record, you go to sleep and you are still hearing the songs and you can hear the people that should be on the tracks, you are kind of already there. I was already hearing Hossam playing on the track, so when he finally plays the part and we listen back, it’s just plain obvious to me that it was always going to work beautifully.
Nilusha: I don’t think that is a common thing. I think that is part of Alex’s gift as a producer and percussionist. He hears these ideas in advance. That kind of vision is unique. Working with Alex is almost like watching a jigsaw puzzle come together. I have a clear idea of the concept through the composition and arranging, but Alex takes the elements and shakes it all up then starts laying it out piece by piece. At times I’ve really questioned where he’s heading but I have learned to trust him.
Alex: When I am working in the studio on a particular song I can usually hear the final outcome with the correct parts, I am already hearing the parts and events before they get printed as they say. Maybe all these stems from decades of working in studios doing sessions contributing to records of all types, being able to hear it at a bare stage and constructing it in my head before playing a note. On my productions I could hear Hossam play on the track already, I could hear Paul Grabowsky play on the tracks before he even played a note. I understand the capabilities, the sound, the knowledge their playing will bring and how well it will all sit on the tracks. In the case of Paul, I mean I have known him for decades, we’ve played together in the Art Orchestra for more then twenty years, I just knew it was going to be amazing, the first track we did was one take, an outstanding performance.
Do you like to do a lot of vocal takes Nilusha?
Nilusha: Sometimes if you do it again and again you can’t quite capture the essence or the spirit of the first take. I definitely fix things if I feel that is not quite right or didn’t like a part. I’m quite particular and so is he. With the backing vocals, I arrange and write all the parts and I’m very particular on which parts are the most prominent parts and the way they are mixed. I like to hear certain sounds and colours. I guess that’s my thing. I hear backing vocals in a section here and backing vocals there and I like to recreate what I am hearing in my head.
For the track ‘Clear Water’, you recorded some street traffic in Cuba
Alex: Whenever we travel, I always take my portable digital stereo recorder and as I walk around I love to record around the streets. In Havana the atmosphere was just beautiful, vibrant atmosphere to record. I ended up using some of my street recordings at the beginning of this track which gives it an immediate ambience. This track features a special friend, the great Tom E Lewis on didgeridoo and vocals. We have spent a bit of time working on projects together. I organised a recording with him in a large room at the college which I set up with a couple of mics and proceeded to record these parts with him, it was incredible. I am recording, eyes closed, mesmerized by his sounds, half way through the piece I look up and he is walking around the room, complete absorbed in the moment, completely taken away by the track, it was magical, a special moment indeed.
How did American guitarist Mike Stern end up on the album?
Alex: I recorded an album many years ago and asked him to participate on a track. There was an opportunity this time around as he was coming to the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and a dear friend Frank Corniola was bringing him out. I enquired via Frank whether we could get Mike interested in participating on three songs on the album. We then sent him charts and basic demos of the songs. By the time he arrived in Melbourne, he was ready and completely engrossed in what we had to do in the studio. He was an incredible guest, playing all the parts beautifully, then coming up with other ideas for extra guitar parts, a rhythm guitar part here and there, an extra line here, we recorded and used everything he played. We saw him a few days later after his concert and he was eager to do more! He was telling us how he had some time a few days later to do some more or fix anything that might have not quite worked. And that shows you the man that he is, the professional stance he takes. On the session we organised we were in the studio till late at night and he was so engrossed, we could have stayed up all night recording, that was the vibe with him in the studio. We saw him again in New York months later, a few times and he was still raving about the songs, how great the recording sounded and how much he enjoyed the songs.
Nilusha: It was so great for me to sit in the studio and watch how he works. I haven’t done the amount of sessions that Alex has done but I’ve done a few. There are a handful of people I know who have this unbelievable musicality and attack and he is definitely one of them. Paul Grabowsky is another. Both of those sessions were like going to school for me. Alex is like that absolutely and Raymond McDonald, a Scottish jazz improviser and professor. There’s just this no apology, bang, here I am and this is how it goes. There’s a wonderful attack in the playing and an unbelievable amount of knowledge and creativity that they bring to the session.
What are the plans for this album now? Do you hope to tour it overseas?
Alex: We would love to do that and we are trying ways to develop connections to arrive at the international area. We will try and promote it as widely as we can. We are already getting airplay on the ABC and other stations like PBS. We would love to get into an area where we could get management who could look after our project and look at the big picture, international avenues. We were invited to the Mosaic Music Festival in Singapore this year and it was great, would definitely love to do more performances of that kind.
Are you thinking about the next Alex & Nilusha recording already?
Alex: Yes we are, we have recorded lots of things, we are always writing and recording. I also have a percussion based album that I have been completing for some time, in the style of the track ‘Clear Water’, featuring lots of percussion instruments in diverse rhythmic styles and in solo improvised configurations. Nilusha and I have also been working on a new more experimental type of album, free improvisation, atmospheric, in a creative and open type of area, in the moment performances. We have recorded a couple of tracks with Scottish saxophonist Raymond McDonald already and we are about to record a couple with trumpeter Miroslav Bukovsky and guitarist Geoff Hughes. We would like to release that record out of that at some stage soon, not as an ‘Alex & Nilusha’ record, but as a diverse creative project. Nilusha, as mentioned earlier has a solo record coming out called ‘The Lotus Verses’ and I also have a couple of back catalogue releases which our label will publish soon. A few years ago Nilusha and I created ‘Whispering Tree Music’ our own record label which releases projects distributed by The Planet Company/MGM through physical cds and digitally and internationally online through all the possible channels. We are slowly building this label’s catalogue for which we have creative control and are extremely happy about this development for our artistic endeavours.
Alex & Nilusha Moments In Time
Interview by Miriam Zolin
July 4, 2012
With a tune from Jobim, and one from James Taylor alongside originals and folk songs; guest performances by some of Australia’s finest jazz musicians and the unique musical and cultural offerings of both Chilean born percussionist Alex Pertout and Sri Lankan vocalist Nilusha Dassenaike, 'Moments in Time' is a unique recording. Nilusha’s strong yet delicate voice holds the listener and the music brings a fusion of world music, jazz and folk to life. Alex Pertout is a member of the Australian Art Orchestra and has played with James Morrison, John Farnham, Brian Brown, Hunters & Collectors, Tina Arena, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter. Nilusha Dassenaike has performed widely, including with Renee Geyer and Don Burrows. We caught Alex and Nilusha in a quiet moment during a busy round of touring and performing and asked them about 'Moments In Time'.
Jazz-Planet: How did this musical partnership ‘Alex and Nilusha’ come about. What drew you together? How long have you been working together?
Alex: Nilusha and I commenced our musical association when I assembled a band to promote my 'From The Heart' release, that was back in 2002. As soon as we performed, there was a connection, a relaxed connection that inspired and continues to inspire creative outcomes. Nilusha and I work hard in the development of our artistic journeys. We both thrive on new ideas and developments and believe strongly in the search for a personal sound. Nilusha composes wonderful tunes with an advanced sense of lyric, is a natural on stage and is also blessed with a marvellous sound. Our paths crossed and it was only logical that we would take it further and produce an entire project together at some stage.
Jazz Planet: Is there anything specific that your Chilean and Sri Lankan heritage/s has brought to this?
Nilusha: This recording includes a mixture of western and Asian musical heritages. I have studied various western vocal techniques solidly since childhood and Southern Indian carnatic singing for a number of years. Sri Lankan vocal techniques borrow tremendously from both Northern and Southern Indian singing styles, however it has its own vocal nuances that are distinctly Sri Lankan. My intention was to include the music of my cultures and learned techniques and created a multicultural soundscape of sorts.
Alex: For decades I have researched closely the percussive instruments and styles from many areas of Latin America including my country of birth Chile. Being an eclectic practitioner working professionally as a percussionist in wide ranging areas, from orchestral to jazz to pop, I have also researched and continue to research percussive instruments and styles from many parts of the world. This background has not only given me an immense appreciation but it has also presented me with unique tools to choose and embellish with.
Jazz Planet: What were the key things that brought this project 'Moments in Time' about?
Alex: A labour of love. The utmost love for performing, recording and producing music, the excitement of the unknown in the development of these works from scratch, all that is incredibly stimulating and rewarding. An album project in itself is a monumental event, of course there are many way of developing an album, some easier than others, but in the main it is a massive project that requires an incredible amount of focus in order to get there. For me the process has always been akin to working on a canvas, developing the painting from scratch, exploring details in every space, in every corner. It takes an enormous amount of time, lots of hours and hours spent observing every stroke, auditing every sound.
Nilusha: A fundamental love of making music and sharing music. Being able to collaborate effectively and being on the same page when you need to be we’re one of the key things that brought the project to fruition.
Jazz Planet: Has anything opened up for you creatively, out of the process of creating the music on the cd? Any discoveries, new paths beckoning, new projects arising out of this work?
Nilusha: Absolutely, I think we have both recognised specific areas, that are present on the album, that we’d like to pursue further. Currently I am working on compositions and arrangements of traditional Sinhala Folk music that includes a mix of both of my musical heritages i.e. western and Asian harmony, rhythms, vocal techniques etc. Together, we have started working on arrangements for a vocal and percussion album and of course the next Alex & Nilusha project.
Alex: Whenever you complete a creative project like our 'Moments In Time' album, there are all these incredible scenarios that follow through. Nilusha mentioned the vocal/percussion ensemble works we have been developing for recording and I have a percussion-only project which thus far features guests such as my friends Raul Rekow, conguero with the Santana band for the last thirty-six years, the celebrated Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy, Bill Summers from Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and the renowned drummer David Jones. We are also developing material for a follow-up Alex & Nilusha release.
Jazz Planet: What guided your choices of musicians to work with on this project?
Alex: I have always had an association with the most wonderful, creative musicians, players who possess skills of the highest calibre in the areas of creative contemporary music performance which of course includes improvisation. Artists such as Joe, Miroslav, David, Lenny, Craig, Tony and Dave bring an amazingly vast worldly experience in creative music making to the projects they choose to partake in, our recording was no exception. The music we recorded required an extreme form of performance finesse, so choices per song were made accordingly. As the performers also happen to be our close friends, the choices were extremely easy to arrive at. The opportunity to have Dave Valentin on the record, a Grammy winning artist and possibly the most celebrated Latin-jazz flautist of all time came through as a result of his ‘Artist In Residence’ time at VCA. On the last day he was in Melbourne I called him and said “Dave, I wanted to ask you” and before I even finished the sentence he shouted “I’ll do it!”
Jazz Planet: How did you decide on the instrumentation?
Alex: Some were dictated by the arrangements we already had in place, while with others we experimented with diverse instrumentation and also with diverse rhythmic styles. For example ‘From The Heart’ which we had been performing for some time as a trio, it continued in that fashion with just voice, piano and cajon (the Afro-Peruvian rhythmic box). Others developed further as we explore the possibilities. The title track ‘Moments In Time’ as an example, I originally composed as a jazz ballad, but over the years the instrumentation and the rhythmic feel has changed drastically from the original jazz ballad to a rhythmic style akin to the Afro-Cuban 6/8 incorporating okonkolo (from the Afro-Cuban bata drum family), congas, shekere, cowbell as part of the rhythm section as well as David’s drum kit. The use of counterpoint, with Joe on accordion and myself on vibes behind the vocal lines were the sort of areas that developed as the recording took form. ‘You Can Close Your Eyes’ was also a song that we had been performing as a trio with voice, piano and berimbau (Brazilian one-string bow), in the studio I had recorded two berimbau parts tuned to C and G respectively, plus a cajon and triangle. The berimbaus were to be two diverse choices, but as we listen to them together at the mixing session, they became two distinctive parts of the song from the start. We also decided to record a duo song ‘Walk With Me’, written by Nilusha. The song contains an arrangement based on Afro-derived styles, which feature polyrhythmic parts which I perform on congas, bombo and cascara (sticks on woodblocks) and a lead vocal/choir ‘call-and-response’ style that Nilusha interprets so well. In ‘Afro Blue’ we added a chant in Spanish, which Nilusha overdubbed the large choir which sings the chant and the piano part was arranged with a particular 6/8 pattern, based on Reich’s ‘Clapping Music’ pattern, which also seems to contain a distinctive Afro derived rhythmic style in my opinion. I also arranged a different set of changes for the solo sections that feature Miroslav’s wonderful improvisations.
Jazz Planet: You have included a mix of originals and ‘covers’. Why these particular tunes – the folk songs you picked, the Jobim and James Taylor – is there something specific about those pieces that made them important choices?
Nilusha: In choosing the ‘covers’, and in particular those pieces, fundamentally they have beautiful melodies, also the poetry in each is so exquisite so the potential for the vocal delivery was quite vast, lots of consonants and phrasing options, which is exciting stuff for a vocalist. An important aspect of the selection was also dependent on the arrangement of influences and colours we had gathered for the ensemble and whether the songs were pliable enough for us superimpose those sounds and colours to these pre-existing compositions.
Alex: There are so many wonderful songs out there and so the wider chosen repertoire can cover many areas, many genres. The main point for us was to make whatever song we chose to record, distinctively different. As creative musicians, it had to be a representation of what we have to bring forward. It had to be part of the sound and be developed to be performed in a personal way. For a creative soul, there is no point in a recording of ‘covers’ or ‘standards’ unless it is treated personally, there needs to be that unique approach which will make it yours to present.
Jazz Planet: For each of you, what are you listening to now?
Nilusha: Chandrakanthi Shilpadhipathi (Traditional Sinhalese vocalist), Shobha Sekhar (Traditional Carnatic vocalist), Lizz Wright, Loreena McKennitt.
Alex: Richard Bona, Selvaganesh (Carnatic percussionist), Steve Reich, Gustavo Santaolalla, James Taylor, Taku Mafika (Zimbabwean nyunga nyunga mbira artist), Ralph MacDonald, Cal Tjader, Los Muñequitos De Matanzas.
Alex & Nilusha Moments In Time
Interview by Andrew Ford
ABC The Music Show RN
May 19, 2012
Andrew: Congratulations on the album which is called ‘Moments In Time’, we should begin by talking about repertory, how do you decide what’s right for you?
Alex: Well we like so many styles of music, so many songs, we also like many songwriters and we like James Taylor and also Mongo Santamaria, so there is a wide range for us to choose from.
Andrew: Both of you were born elsewhere, but you both have been in Australia for a long time, do you find that you bring into the music a great deal of your heritage?
Nilusha: I should say it is more of a recent thing for me. I just completed a Master of Philosophy in Music and my focus was Sinhala folk music which is the traditional music of Sri Lanka. it’s a music that has sort of been buried, sort of lost over time and I think due to the social hierarchies that still exist in Sri Lanka, these are peasant songs, so rarely see the light of day. And so researching into that I sort of saw how necessary it was for me to not necessarily put aside the southern Indian carnatic singing that I have been studying, but sort of incorporate all of it because also the Sinhala folk music is also very influenced by southern and northern singing techniques in India, so it has been a recent addition for me.
Andrew: And so can you apply those techniques to material like Jobim?
Nilusha: I think I important to pay homage and respect to the original composition but I think that filtering through my own methods it is possible to add to it.
Alex: I was going to add that it works in every situation for me, everywhere, as my Latin and my world percussive influences have gone into everything that I have been involved in, from the Australian Art Orchestra to Powderfinger.
Andrew: What about the ranges of instruments that you play and actually its wider than just the instruments that you play Alex, because each of the songs on this album has been orchestrated it seems to me, as a very careful collection of sounds, put together for each song, is this your job? (laughs)?
Alex: Yes, it is my job (laughs).
Andrew: Are you finding the right colours?
Alex: Yes and its always something that I really, really enjoy, because I have been in the studios recording for the past thirty plus years and in all sort of situations, from orchestral thing, to jazz, to pop records and my job is always being to create something in the music. Like for example I wasn’t told “you should play that Zimbabwean mbira “ because I was the one that actually brought it to the studio, they didn’t know what that was , I was the one showing and bringing new sounds to the music. It has always been my passion to do that and when we were recording this album it was the same process, we develop things and create textures, rhythmic sections that I create on my own. I really enjoy going through that part of the process.
Andrew: And Nilusha from the songwriting point of view for you, does that really precede from your voice do you think? Is writing a physical thing, comes out of the sounds that you make?
Nilusha: I woud say no, I think that the end product, the delivery is governed by certain things, it may start with chords or it may gain inspiration from the lyrics first, but the sound that ends up being recorded or produced is the next phase of the song writing for me.
Andrew: So a separate thing then?
Nilusha: Yes absolutely.
The album is called ‘Moments In Time’ by Alex & Nilusha. Alex is Alex Pertout and Nilusha is Nilusha Dassenaike. You can catch them live as part of the Stonnington Jazz Festival 2012, next Friday 25 May at Chapel Off Chapel.
Moments in Time with Alex Pertout
Interview by Ray Deegan
Issue 69 July/August/September 2012
Chilean born Alex Pertout has for decades being recognised as one of Australia’s leading percussionists,
with credits on hundreds of albums and soundtracks. He is undeniably one of Australia’s most recorded
musicians. Alex has also attained credits with television orchestras, in countless live performances and
as a respected educator.
As a founding member of the Australian Art Orchestra he has toured Europe, North America, Asia and
Oceania, has performed as a soloist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, has recording, performance
and television orchestra credits with an array of artists including Powderfinger, Badi Assad, Shane
Howard, James Morrison, Paul Kelly, Casiopea, Jackson Browne, Little River Band w/John Farnham,
Hunters & Collectors, Tina Arena and Archie Roach. Alex is also Senior Lecturer and Head of Contemporary
Music Performance at the Faculty of VCA, University of Melbourne. Performing at this years AUDW, Alex has teamed with Nilusha Dassenaike to form a unique
ensemble. Alex and Nilusha’s performances embrace an authentic contemporary world sound created
in Australia but informed by many locations around the globe including their profound personal Latin American and South Asian roots. This is revealed through their compositions and arrangements, which incorporate contemporary jazz and world styles, improvisation and highly refined musicianship. The ensemble has performed widely in jazz clubs both in Australia and internationally.
Drumscene: You’ll be performing at this year’s AUDW with Nilusha Dassenaike. You both
have a collaborative relationship spanning some years now. When did you first
discover each other as artists and that you had common musical ground?
So it's not just picking up a set of bongos and banging away.
Alex: Nilusha and I commenced our first musical association when I assembled a band
to promote my From The Heart release, which was back in 2002. Since then we
have always found common ground musically. Nilusha works as hard as I do, in the
continued development of artistry. She composes marvellous tunes with extremely
refined lyrics, is a natural on stage and is also blessed with a beautiful sound. As
our musical paths crossed, it was only logical that it would develop further and at
some point produce an entire project together.
Drumscene: Can you talk about the new album “Moments In Time” - the most recent release
in collaboration with Nilusha?
Alex: We are extremely proud of our Moments In Time release. This album developed
over a number of years. The first phase included selecting original works and
looking at favourites that we could arrange and produce in a personal way. During
this time we also performed in concert at the ANU in Canberra as part of my MPhil
candidature and the wonderful trumpeter Miroslav Bukovsky took part. Soon after I
commenced recording tracks and pianist Joe Chindamo, bassist Craig Newman and
Miroslav were the first players I contacted.Soon after I first players I contacted. I recorded and edited the project and
seized opportunities to record other marvellous musicians as they came along. In
time we had the opportunity to invite the legendary NY based flautist Dave Valentin
to play on a few tracks (‘Artist in Residence’ at the VCA at the time). I also invited
pianist Tony Gould to play on a couple of ballads - pianist Andrew Jones to perform the guajeo (Latin style comping) on a track, sarodist
Saby Bhattacharya, guitarist Leonard Grigoryan and
drummer David Jones to take part. Meanwhile I also
recorded many percussion parts and the various vocal
parts that Nilusha developed, which also included
multiple backing vocal parts.
Once we edited and concluded that phase of
the project, I transferred all the recording files to
Armstrong Studios and with award winning engineer
Doug Brady we mixed the album. Later we took the
mixes to Studios 301 in Sydney where the album was
mastered by Leon Zervos, the great mastering engineer
who worked at Sterling Sound Mastering in NY for 20
Drumscene: From a playing perspective - how busy have the last
12 months been for you? Can you detail some of the
musical projects you’ve been involved with during
Alex: My life is busy all the time. I am forever multi-tasking.
I have so many things developing at all times. I record,
compose, perform and I’m also a senior lecturer who
heads a large department at the VCA. In terms of
musical projects, the Moments In Time recording took
precedence over the last few years and I spent a lot of
my time recording, editing and producing the album.
I have also been working on a couple of other
personal projects, which I hope to finalise in the near future. One of them is a total percussion album.
Apart from that I have been part of the Australian
Art Orchestra led by Paul Grabowsky for the last
19 years. This is an award winning contemporary
ensemble which boasts some of the most amazing
contemporary performers and improvisers from around
Australia. Being part of this large ensemble brings
wonderful national and international performance and
recording opportunities. One recent pportunity was
an Australian tour with singer-songwriter Paul Kelly,
playing to sold out concert halls around the country.
From this tour, a live album may be released.
I also have been playing at various festivals with
jazz pianist Joe Chindamo. I also performed on his
last recording, which was nominated for an Aria under
‘Best Jazz Release’. I love recording and over the years
I have developed a portable studio set-up which gives
me the facility to also produce sessions of my work
for others. Things have changed so much in this area.
As someone who spent most of his time in the studio
environment as an A-rated session player for over 30
years, this is a new way of conducting a session which is actually fantastic. I performed on the last Powderfinger record this way '
Golden Rule', that was a very successful album for
them - also nominated for an Aria under ‘Best Rock
Release’. They sent me files of songs and I added
my creative percussion ideas and sent back files. The
album came out and my percussion contributions
worked wonderfully. Tracks like ‘Burn Your Name’ (hit
single) and ‘Awake’ were an amazing revelation to me
when I heard them back. In parts the mixes featured
my percussive work right up front and at times
with the drum kit parts left out, giving the various
percussion instruments ample room to shine through.
It is just another way, and a great way of contributing
to projects from afar. I am quite open and eager to
continue this style of work as well.
How do you find the time for performing? The VCA
is obviously a demanding teaching position? Do you
find the two (performing and teaching) compliment
Alex: Well the VCA is a performance college. The program
and the successful applicants who partake in the
degree course are at a very high performance level
and so as per the expectations of performance led
research, the overall focus moves hand in hand with
what is professional performance practice philosophy.
My life as a performer has always had the serious
research component side by side, and as the years
go by, as a serious practitioner it never ceases, it
just continues to evolve. Now, being surrounded by
a young inspired cohort with the same focus and
ideals actually enhances the environment. I find it
quite easy to relate and to embrace. Of course as a
Senior Lecturer and Head of Contemporary Music
Performance the position itself brings a wide set of
responsibilities, especially in the areas of curriculum
development, program, classes, guests and concert
events to name a few. But this area of responsibility
also opens the immense possibilities to direct pathways
of learning conduits, which are in part dictated by my
own personal ideologies on the important aspects of
musical development and which are also informed by
my first-hand experiences in the music profession as a
serious and respected practitioner.
As far as performance is concerned the types of
classes that I teach are all entrenched in performance
practice, so my teaching at VCA incorporates a
vast amount of performance led tuition in every
session. It is really the ideal educational environment
for a performer who has and continues to have a
professional connection and career as an artist.
With the standing success of 'Sight Reading: The
Rhythm Book', do you have any plans for further
publications or educational collaborations?
Alex: The development of music education publishing in the
last few decades has been quite remarkable, especially
in the areas of contemporary music. 'Sight Reading: The
Rhythm Book' has been out around the globe for some
time now. I am also very proud to be associated as
an international musical author with a world leading
publisher in Mel Bay, which treats my book with the
utmost respect. As I also have a website associated
with the book, I can easily see from the data that
arrives, how wide the market actually is, which is
staggering. Having completed an MPhil in Music with the subject matter being the development of hand
drumming techniques, I have accumulated a vast
amount of material for some interesting publications.
I have quite a few other publishing projects in
development from my vast experiences in diverse
areas of music performance. We shall see which one
will be released first. Research and publishing go
hand in hand with my work at the university, so this
is an area I am always directly involved and eager to
Drumscene: You’ve had a long-standing association with AUDW,
as one of the first to ever perform at the original
‘Drummer Day’ back in 92. How do find the
experience of performing at a festival like this, in
comparison to any other performance?
Is it necessary to alter your approach for the audience
you’re catering for?
If so, how does it differ?
Alex: That is right. I was there for the first Drummers Day,
which featured David Garibaldi, Dave Samuels, Virgil
and Graham - I remember it well! It has always been
a fantastic experience for me. Every time I have
been there, I have been in the fortunate position
of presenting a new cd release, which will also
account for this performance. It is a wonderful concert
opportunity to perform in. I have always found the
audiences are open and eager to enjoy what is on
offer, which of course is always first-class, so they
are incredibly receptive to the styles presented and
what I bring is usually quite diverse. As far as the
approach is concerned, for me it is a showcase of
the album as well as a showcase of the diverse world
percussive styles and instruments that I’m a serious
practitioner of. The hardest part ends up being what
to leave out from the vast amount of material that we
are able to deliver. The AUDW 2012 - Alex & Nilusha
performance - will focus on our 'Moments In Time'
release with our quintet.
Drumscene: We’re already 6 months into 2012 – from an artistic
perspective, how has the New Year started for you?
What plans do you have for 2012?
Alex: It has been an extremely busy year for me thus far. '
Moments In Time' was released in March and since
then we have been promoting our release via radio
interviews and performances in wide ranging areas.
The album is doing very well! We’ve had great reviews
including the ABC Jazz - ‘Album Of The Week’. I find
myself devoting quite a lot of time to the promotion of
this album, our sound and the band. I’m also working
on a couple of other personal cd projects including a
percussion only release which thus far features guest
performances from some selected percussion friends
including conguero Raul Rekow from the Santana
band, the great Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy,
legendary Headhunters percussionist Bill Summers
and drummer David Jones.
I’m also working on a ‘duets’ album and starting to
look into the next Alex & Nilusha project which will
include a large vocal and percussion ensemble project
album in the near future.
Percussionist, Composer Beats Out His Own Rhythm!
Interview by Fotis Kapetopoulos
Alex Pertout is an accomplished musician and authority on Latin music
currently lecturing at the Victorian College of the Arts. As a musician
he has heen credited on more than seventy albums by musical dignitaries
such as: Joe Camilleri and the Black Sorrows, Stephen Cummings, Kate Ceberano,
Vince Jones and Paul Grabowsky — the list is exhausting! His appearances
with The Elizabethan Melbourne Orchestra and The Australian Pops Orchestra
and residencies with numerous television orchestras, testify to his flexibility
and craftsmanship. A master percussionist and composer, Alex Pertout
is finally stepping out of the shadows and into the public sphere with
the release of his debut and self-titled solo cd. The Australia Council
and one of the more adventurous record labels Larrikin, have shown vision.
It's clear that major music labels in Australia stlll centre their efforts
on the fifteen to eighteen year old market. But the winds of change are
"As a musician I have had considerable support from my peers. When it
came to convincing major recording componies to release my cd they responded
by sending me really nice letters telling me my music was great, but not
commercial enough. That's okay, I understand their concerns. I received support for recording by the Australia Council and Larrikin
were brave enough to release my cd." Record labels in Germany, France,
Britain and the United States have fully understood the economic potential
of cultural diversity. yet in Australia one of the most diverse, tolerant
and rapidly changing societies in the world, has not utilised its enormous
potential. "Australia's cultural diversity is a great thing for the
development of interesting, unique and innovative music. Yet after twenty
years as a practising musician, it is only in the last four years that
I have noticed great change. Ten years ago a concept like Womad would have
been laughed at. That inspires me!"
The necessity for Womad and other international festivals to recognise
diverse cultural product is critical to Australia's development. While positive moves are developing Australia's culturally diverse talents
still awaits support, with cap in hand. Clearly the unwillingness
of large corporations and cultural administrators to tap vast potential
markets has limited the development of high quality and professional outcomes
in all fields of creative endeavour. It is heartening to see individuals
such as Alex Pertout taking charge and personally riding against the grain
of common convention. "I play lots of roles. marketer, manager and
musician. An incredible amount of personal investment in time and maney
has gane into pramoting the cd. My aim is to get exposure through
articles and some air play. It has been a very well thought out and
The financial viability of recording and promoting Australian 'World
Music', is difficult to reconcile with the tame attitude adopted by sponsors,
governments and major recording companies. Peter Gabriel's investment in
the Real World label was not premised solely on altruism, but on a solid
comprehension of the market potential for music from the cultural periphery. In the US the Folkways label turns over $8 million per year on a $1.8 million
government subsidy, from the sale of world music cds and tapes. A
considerably small investment for a large return in anyone's terms.
Musically, Alex Pertout's skills and mastery can not be challenged. The eerie and haunting Recuerdos De Los Andes also features Pertout's
mother's icy soprano voice which is well balanced by warm and majestic
tunes such as I Will Always Love You. His flirtations with
jazz and rock enhance the Latin base of his music. One can only hope
that more musicians like Alex Pertout are promoted both here and overseas
as viable and superb examples of Australia's cultural reality.
Adrian Jackson Interviews The Leading Jazz Percussionist
The living room at Alex Pertout's home in Eltham, on the outskirts of
Melbourne, tells you that he appreciates art; in fact, his wife, is an art teacher and she created several of the
paintings, sculptures and stained glass windows that decorate the room. The next room, the studio, tells you all about Alex Pertout's career. It is full of drums (congas, bongos, timbales, among others), tubed percussion
(vibraphone, marimba, xylophone), shakers and other assorted percussion
instruments, along with keyboards, audio equipment, and racks of lps and
cds. Alex, of course, has been one of the most in-demand musicians
on the local scene over the last decade or so, adding his skills as a percussionist
to all manner of recording and performance situations. His cv goes
on and on; suffice to say, he has been heard in situations as different
as a 90-piece orchestra, a rock band like LRB, and intimate jazz ensembles
led by musicians like Tony Gould.
He was born in Chile in 1959, but spent his childhood in Italy, before
his parents moved to Australia. "I was about 11 or 12 then", Alex recalls.
"Funnily enough, I have developed a real love for Chilean music now, especially
the music of the Andes, groups like Inti-llllimani. But I wasn't
really exposed to that when I was growing up. My parents were really
into music, mainly opera. But what I really grew up on was Santana, hearing
them made me want to play percussion." Alex studied percussion with
John Litchen, who put him onto Latin jazz artists like Cal Tjader and Mongo
Santamaria: "When I discovered that music, that took me back to the Afro-Cuban
roots. I found out things like Santana's version of 'Oye Como Va' was just
the same as Tito Puente's."
His first important experience as a musician was performing at The Commune
(a small Fitzroy coffee lounge) with jazz composer and flautist-saxophonist
Brian Brown, in 1979. The band also included pianist Bob Sedergreen,
bassist Jeremy Alsop and either David Jones or Virgil Donati on drums. The next year, Brown started up a jazz studies course at the Victorian
College of the Arts, and Alex auditioned, successfully, to be in the first
intake of students. He says, "Brian really opened up my horizons,
helped me to look at music in different ways. Brian was the one who said
to me, 'why don't you write your own music to play?' He really made
me feel like I could do it. And people like Brian and Tony Gould,
they are able to tell you things that you can think about for quite a few
Appropriately, Alex has been a teacher himself at the VCA since 1984
(he also teaches at a couple of Tafe courses). He tells me, "I really
enjoy teaching at the College. The percussion elective is so popular. And
the Latin jazz ensemble plays once a week, and I bring along charts by
Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, Mongo, people they wouldn't normally hear anything
about. It influences the way they think about music. I feel
good when I see people from the College with little Latin jazz bands around
town. And teaching helps me, too; I learn a lot from doing the research,
and seeing what the students have to say". Going back to his own
student days, Alex says that his main motivation was to learn the tube
percussion instruments, "so that I could do those gigs where they need
a percussionist who could play everything. Most of them went to classical
players, who could read and play everything, but usually didn't have much
feel for rhythm."
As a result, he started to pick up very regular work with television
bands, and other recording studio work. "I never set out to be a
session player", he points out, "in any case", he adds, "I've really
enjoyed all the sessions that I've done. I find that people are more open
to unusual sounds, it's like they expect me to make a contribution: what do you think would
work here? They want to hear some new sounds, and that's great for
me." Even so, the percussionist says that his greatest pleasure has
come from performing at regular gigs such as with the band WJAZ or for
special concerts, such as the premiere in January of Brian Brown's opera The
Winged Messenger, or a couple of recent seasons with Paul Grabowsky's
orchestra, performing Ringing The Bell Backwards (an association
he hopes to continue when Grabowsky launches his Australian Art Orchestra
later this year).
More importantly, he has recently formed a band to present his own music. It includes Rob Planck (trumpet, flugelhorn), Stuart Campbell (keyboards),
Hugh Paddle (guitar), Craig Newman (bass guitar) and Darryn Farrugia (drums).
"We opened for Ottmar Liebert just last night at the Concert Hall, and
it went really well. I've played with these guys for a long time in different
situations, and I think we can work together as a band." His plan
is to "wait for the right gigs to come along"; but having his own band
should help to give a further push to his debut cd, Alex Pertout,
which was released on Larrikin last year, and scored more than a few favorable
He says of the cd, for which he wrote all the music, "It's a very personal
statement, I see a lot of my life in there. My wife did the cover artwork,
my mother sings on one track. There's some Andean music, a bit of
Mongo; one track is dedicated to Cal Tjader, another one is dedicated to
Carlos Santana." The strong melodic emphasis of the music along with the fact that he plays
synthesiser on several tracks, and piano on the lovely closer, For Carlos has confounded some expectations of a 'percussion' album. He laughs,
"a lot of people, even other musicians, were expecting me to do an
album full of drums, show how fast I can play, but is not my path at this stage. Or some people expected a straight salsa album.
But I'm into lots of different things. I like to play all sorts of music and contribute in whatever way I can." As I'm about to leave, Alex tells
me, "You know, I'm really pleased to see so many people of my generation
putting out their own music on albums, I think it is such an important thing to do."
Percussionist Takes Centre Stage.
With His Debut Solo Cd Alex Pertout, Hands-For-Hire, Steps Out On His
Interview by Brian Wise
You may not have realised but you must have heard Alex Pertout playing
— he has been almost unavoidable. The Pertout session curriculum
vitae is stunning. As one of Australia's most called upon session musos
Alex has graced scores of recordings with his presence. So far his
career has given him credits on well over seventy albums as well as sound tracks,
commercials, TV orchestras, education, theatre and live performances. Jo
Camilleri, The Little River band, Farnham, Braithewaite, Ceberano, Joe
Creighton, Hunters & Collectors, Ross Wilson, Brian Cadd, Mark Gillespie,
Vince Jones, Paul Grabowsky — and many others — have called upon Pertout
to add his special magic to their recordings.
Now, Pertout asserts his independence on an impressive self-titled debut
recording that is a summary of all the eclectic influences that have come
to bear upon the percussionist's work over the years. An instrumental
album of much grace, some fire, and many moments of elegant playing Pertout's
recording encapsulates all the qualities of his playing that have attracted
so many other musicians. Assisting Pertout to create his atmospheric
recording are friends such as drummer Virgil Donati, trumpeter Bob Venier,
bassist Michael Mat thews, singer Linda George, guitarist Mario Genovese
and even Cecilia (Alex's mother) lends her voice for a track.
Alex Pertout was born in Chile of a Slovenian father and Chilean mother
who were ardent lovers of classical music. After leaving Chile in
the early seventies, at the height of that nation's political turmoil,
the family lived in Italy before settling in Australia. By the age
of fifteen young Alex had embarked on his studies in percussion which led
to an academic musical path culminating in his graduation from the Victorian
College Of the Arts with distinctions in performance and composition. He has been employed there as a lecturer in since 1984. But Pertout
is no academic in an ivory tower when it comes to playing. Apart
from recording credits for other musicians he has worked on numerous soundtracks
and appeared in an amazing diversity of live performances.
You have actually carved out a pretty high profile career for yourself
over the years and I would imagine in your field of work that is not an
easy thing to do.
"I basically started playing percussion in a few bands and little things
started developing from there. Once you work with one person it develops
and I guess in the last ten years I have worked with a lot of the mainstream
artists. There are a lot of things that go with that as well.
You have to be reliable, be on time, be nice to people. There are
a lot of things involved and I guess I get along with a lot of people.
A lot of the time I help the records because playing percussion is a little
bit hard in some instances where you play for people who don't actually
know-what they like to hear on the record but they have ideas about using
percussion. So you basically go into the studio and playa whole lot of
different things and help them."
"I have played on records where I have not played any congas or bongos but
I played lots of shakers and things like that and I have a collection of
maybe fifty shakers and I take them to the studio and just go through the
track and play different shakers and see which ones they like. I have worked
in other instances where people actually have the whole thing worked out
but a lot of the time it's not like that and you actually are there to
contribute to the recording."
I guess it must be pretty difficult for some like yourself to put an
album together. Did you find any resistance to doing it?
"I wrote the songs quiet a while ago and I always wanted to record them
and I always felt there was a market for it. As far as the companies
were concerned I got a lot of 'nice but not commercial' type attitudes.
I expected that anyway so I didn't really care about that so much.
Basically I just thought of recording it and putting it out at some stage.
I always thought also there is a market overseas for the type of music
I am doing. It's a little bit limited here."
Record companies have a strange definition of what they consider to
be commercial, don't they?
"It's a funny thing. They'll spend $300,000 recording a pop band
that disappears in a week, they look at that very young market and they see anything
else as being too obscure. But the funny thing is that when I spoke
to Warren Fahey at Larrikin he said 'Your record is really commercial." So he looks at it from another side."
It is beautifully played, it is a very elegant cd, there are some terrific
artists on it and it is really well put together — and it's something that
we don't often hear in Australia.
"In that respect I am both lucky and unlucky. Because in some ways
it's kind of special because not many people are doing what I'm doing but
at the same time it makes you feel like you're a bit alone. But there
are artists like Tommy Emmanuel although he's doing a little bit more radio
oriented stuff, who are doing instrumental music and appealing to a lot
of people and also getting a lot of airplay."
It seems to be a bit of a labour of love because it must have taken
you a lot of time to organise the whole thing.
"Basically a couple of years recording on and off and before that few
years writing and arranging andpractising. And a lot of times as
a percusionist, it's a funny thing, because whenever they think of you
recording they think of bongos and congas they never think of percussionists
as being writers. I spent a lot of time studying a lot of tuned percussion
and also when I was at college I studied piano and I tried to develop that
side. Brian Brown, who is a jazz musician and runs the course at
the VCA, push a lot of people into writing their own material. He
was influential in making the students find their own way rather than doing
three years of playing old standards, making people come up with their
own identity, I guess. I really thank him for that because he opened my
head, and inspired me to develop that side."
Was your family background and the background of your country really
important in your music because it often comes through on the cd?
"Sure. There is one track that is more Andean. I'm from
Chile and the Andes are a really big part of where I used to live and it's
an amazing sight that reflects a little bit of that influence by using
pan flutes. And I also have my mother on that — she sang the melody
of the tune. It creates the atmosphere of the Andes. But I
grew up more influenced by Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian music. I was heavily influenced by Santana and Cal Tjader and Mongo Santamaria and
all those sorts of things which are a bit more on the tropical side."
The fact that Pertout's recording is an independent production, not
the investment of a major label, could mean that it is overlooked in the
marketplace. A pity because this talented percussionist has provided
us with one of the best local albums of the year.
Interview by Paul Matcott
If anyone in Australia can lay claim to being the most recorded musician,
Alex Pertout might just be the one. I would venture to say that nearly
everyone in the country has heard him play at some time in the last twenty
years. He has worked on everything from pop albums, jazz albums,
classical albums, Latin albums, the lot. He has performed with just
about every notable musician in the country. I could list them all, but
there wouldn't be any room left for anything else.(There are over 130 recording
credits listed on his cv). Suffice it to say that he has played on
so many TV shows, film tracks, albums and in concerts, that it really is
hard to imagine anyone in Australia not having heard him.
His playing covers every style of music from rock bands, jazz bands
and pop bands, through to work with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and
the Australian Art Orchestra. He has worked as a director, and has
two bands of his own, 'Alex Pertout and Friends' and 'Alex Pertout &
Jingo', and has had many other ensembles over the years. He has just
released a new reading textbook, and has released his first self-titled
album. As well as all this he manages to find time to teach at the
Victorian College Of The Arts here in Melbourne, and is also currently
studying to complete a Masters Degree. Alex didn't start out to do
all of these things, he just wanted to broaden himself musically when he
enrolled in the first course in jazz improvisation at the VCA. But
that direction would lead to a career as Australia's premier percussionist.
"I was born in Chile, and when I was about ten or eleven we moved to
Italy. My father is European, born on the frontier between Italy
and Yugoslavia. After the second world war he went to Chile, where
he met and married my mother, and stayed for twenty five years before deciding
to return to Europe. We lived there for a couple of years before
coming to Australia. My father had friends here who, like him, had
left Europe after the war, but they came to Australia and stayed. They had always maintained a correspondence, and wrote often about Australia
being a country of great opportunity, and in the end he listened to them. I was twelve when we first came and basically 'grew up' here.
When I was in Italy I was already listening to a lot of South American
music, mainly because that was where I was from. I got very interested
in Latin American music at this time. Both of my parents were musical
— they both sang, though with my mother being a soprano, classical music
and Italian opera were what they played around the house. Somehow
I got more into the Latin stuff, though I did, and still do, like opera
and classical music. South American music was so diverse to me, with
very different styles in different countries. The music of Chile,
for example is full of pan flutes, whilst the music of Cuba is more congas
and timbales. I listened to a great variety of music, fascinated
by these sounds. This all started to happen when I was in Europe
remember; one of the biggest influences at that time was the band Santana,
which had such a variety in the music that they played [they were pretty
big in Europe at that time].
When we came to Australia I was even further away from South America,
but the music still intrigued me and I started to search out more about
it and my interest in percussion grew from there. I started to listen
to other Latin players whose names I had read or heard somewhere — players
like Tito Puente, and any others I could find. I learnt a lot through
listening to Santana, whose music was a mixture of so many influences,
from Latin and rock to jazz. I read names like John Coltrane on their
album covers and sought out more of his music for example, and I did the
same with a wide range of players and composers. Suddenly a whole
world of music opened up to me, and I pursued that interest.
The first teacher I had was Harold Ripper, who got me started on basic
reading and understanding rhythm and syncopation and such. Working
with Harold was good for me, because reading has really helped me a lot.
I learnt conga playing from John Litchen, who was one of the few people
who taught Latin percussion at the time. He didn't teach reading
at all, it was all done by copying the patterns that he played for each
particular rhythm. So I was lucky to have both sides covered — the
reading and the playing. I was able to take the stuff that John gave
me and work on that, and then go and listen to a recording, and transcribe
the parts as I heard them.
After that early study, I have basically just kept working and developing
my playing; it's a life's work, and there is always more to learn.
I'm interested in all areas of percussion; I started with conga drums,
but it suddenly developed into all sorts of areas of percussion.
My first love is still that more rhythmic percussion. I enjoy the
sound of it, and it still holds a fascination for me. But then, my
time at the VCA was designed to move myself into other areas of music,
which I also enjoy: I was part of the original jazz improvisation course
that Brian Brown ran. I went to the VCA primarily to learn more about
music and to expand my horizons. The first thing I did when I went
there, was to pick up some mallets; I studied vibraphone, glockenspiel,
a little bit of timpani and piano. It was another very good educational
experience for me. It opened so many new doors in terms of music,
and in other ways. Brian was always offering suggestions, and showing
me new ways to play things, and different ways to think in terms of music.
The course became a vehicle for the development of whatever musical ideas
I had at the time, and that foundation has really helped me to where I
And where is that?
"That compositional side is very important to me right now. I
have an idea of where I'm headed with my own music now, and I want to work
a lot on that. I want to record more of my own stuff, and to write
more. I have a couple of bands playing and I have a good blend of
work, and I'm more secure about those things too. So the focus is
on my musical ideas."
You have released one solo album so far how did it go?
"It went quite well, it sold well and a lot of shops got behind it.
It was received favourably by the critics, and it got me some overseas
exposure. It was a good learning experience, and now at I feel more
secure with the whole area, I'm keen to release more material. I'm
recording the next cd right now. I hope to have two releases this
year. One will be another solo album, featuring lots of guest players:
Mike Stem, Tommy Emmanuel, Hossam Ramzy (Egyptian player that worked with
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page), Raul Rekow, who is the conga player with
Santana, is also a guest. He was my inspiration hen I was growing
up, and seeing him with Santana was just awesome. I'm putting those
tracks together now and that will be my next release."
A lot of people might know you for your work as a Latin Percussionist,
and not be aware of just how extensive your playing career, especially
the studio side of it. Your ability to play mallet instruments got you
into the studio, and on to TV didn't it?
"Yes, I suppose it did, which is another reason to be grateful for the
help and inspiration I got at the Victorian College of the Arts.
I started getting calls to come and play different mallet and percussion
parts for various shows. Suddenly I was at Channel 9 doing all sorts
of things. They couldn't afford to pay two percussionists, so I got
a lot of calls because I could cover both the tuned and the Latin percussion
stuff. It was all very scary and challenging at the time, having
to cut it on the run most of the time.
I started doing New Faces first of all, with Jack Westmore as
musical director. He was very supportive and helpful. I told
him that I was just starting out on mallets, so he tried to help by writing
out parts for me to play. We did eight songs every week so I would
have to learn about two or three mallet parts, that started getting harder
and harder as Jack became more sure of my abilities. That continued
for five years with Jack, so I really got a good grounding in reading and
playing the tuned mallet instruments. I got calls from other musical
director's too, once word got around that I could play both kinds of percussion. I worked on the Don Lane Show and various other television productions;
that opened a world that I wasn't really aiming for — it wasn't like
I started out to be a studio percussionist, it just happened. People
just kept ringing and I kept going along and working and learning.
I had already heard Cal Tjader play vibes in a Latin context and was really
keen to learn to play them when I went to Victorian College of the Arts,
but it became a whole percussion thing, that included all styles of music."
Talk a little about the playing work that you now do.
"My work is very broad; because people know that I can do more than
Latin percussion, I get calls for all kinds of things. Different
styles of music, different concepts of playing. It can still be scary sometimes
too, playing quite difficult parts by sight, working within tight rehearsal
frameworks where time is money. There is a great amount of variety
in the parts that have to play too; one minute I might be playing congas,
the next I m,ight be on glock or vibes for sixteen bars, then back to some
more rhythm accompaniment. I really enjoy that aspect of it — being
able to play lots of different things. It never gets boring because
of the variety. It's a bit like the LA studio players that I've read
about, who get a lot of work because they can cover so many different areas. I suppose I am like that. I can fill in a lot of niches too.
For example, I get a lot of calls to do film scores with the Melbourne
Symphony Orchestra, Robert Clarke who is the principal percussionist calls
me when they need someone to cover the rhythmic side."
Does most of your work involve reading?
"It varies. Quite a lot of it — the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
work for example — is fully scored, and lots of time I am reading from
a complete part, or from a lead sheet, or even a chord chart. But
there are plenty of times where I can go in and improvise totally too,
so it covers the whole range. One a lot of the pop albums that I
have done I get to the studio and they play me a basic track and then ask
me what I think in terms of adding percussion. On these occasions
I have the freedom to do whatever I want, at least to try some things that
I might like, and then afterwards they decide to keep it or throw it away."
You have an active life as a teacher as well, tell us a bit about that
side of your career.
"The teaching thing with me has really always been there. As soon
as could play congas and was out there playing, people started inquiring
about lessons, and I started doing some teaching from home. Then
at the Victorian College of the Arts, Brian Brown and others were very
interested in the Latin stuff that I could do and that got me more teaching
too. The thing about teaching is that you learn so much yourself
when you have to explain something to someone else. You are always
researching some ways of playing, new ideas, trying to make things interesting
for your students, and it just adds so much more to your knowledege and
experience. A lot of musicians don't like to teach and some are pretty
bad at it as well, but I really enjoy it. I have been teaching at
the Victorian College of the Arts since I graduated, taking a percussion
ensemble and a Latin-jazz ensemble, I also teach a rhythm reading class,
which is where the idea for my book Sight Reading: The Rhythm Book came from. I found that a lot of other instrumtalists and vocalists
whose background was not in drums and percussion, were not that good at
rhythm reading. So I worked out a simple format for learning the
various groupings that are most commonly used, all of it built around the
same thing that I myself learned from Harold Ripper when I was young. When I was first asked to do this, at a Tafe college, Glen Blair who was
the head of the department, told me that reading classes had been tried
many times without success. He asked me whether I couyld come up
with a fresh approach. I ahd a one hour weekly class, and I just
started with clapping simple rhythms, and then worked as systematically
as I could, introducing new rhythms and building on what we already had
done. I got everyone using their hands and later sticks, to help
develop some basic tecnique. The thing was that I had to work out
each lesson, and to make the whole class as systematic as I could, to build
a strong rhythmic foundation. The ideas from that and subsequent
classes formed the basis for the book."
What about your work as a composer, do you have your own studio?
"I have a sixteen track digital recording studio. I record a lot
of stuff here and sometime go elsewhere for a final mix. The idea
is to have the freedom to do a lot more, to put a lot more stuff out there."
How would you describe your compositional style? Is it heavily focused
"Not always, though as a percussionist I do bring a wide knowledge of
rhythm to anything I do. Sometimes I will write from a particular rhythmic
perspective, but other times I might start with a melody or a chord progression.
I like to mix things up a lot where possible. So for example if I am working
with a Brazillian rhythm, I might use some Chilean instruments, to give
the piece a different flavour. A lot of it can be just trial and error,
trying to come up with something a bit different. Of course there is a
lot of percussion in my head, so I use it. But I am trying to write a lot
of different things, I am not simply writing percussion parts."
A lot of the time when working with percussion, the need is for originality
of sound; I remember seeing Emil Richards [LA studio percussionist] wheel
in his standard packing case full of percussion instruments, and one whole
side of the case was full of drawers of different sizes, which contained
hundreds of different kinds of shakers. Despite the fact that, to the layman,
it seemed like complete overkill, he assured us that he did in fact find
a use for every single shaker he had, and he had a filing system based
on the contents of each shaker -rice, grains, ball-bearings, whatever.
He identified them according to the sound they made of course, along the
lines of soft, medium and loud. Do you find the same thing -that need for
an original approach when you go to a studio date here?
"A lot of the time when I go to a studio I do take a lot of different
shakers, just to be ready for any sound that might be needed. You never
know exactly which sound that will be useful, so being prepared and being
open to experimentation is important, especially in the studio. Microphones
hear things differently to our ears. I can remember one time some years
ago, when I was trying to get just the right kind of shaker sound to fit
the mood of a particular piece — a soft evocative ballad — and after trying
nearly all the shakers I had with me, I ended up putting some sugar in
a small metal film container, and that gave the most perfect soft sound
for that piece. I've done all kinds of recording. Sometimes you go
in and the producer will play a track and ask me what I think. I
will come up with some suggestions, and he/she might liked them and we
go wuith that. Sometimes I will ask the engineer to let me experiment
on a first pass but record me, and then listen back and perhaps choose
from something that I instintively played as I heard the music from the
first time and go with that. And I am not that precious about it
If someone likes what I have done then fine. If they don't want
to use all the parts recorded, that's fine too. I'm there to help
as much as I can, to play what is required. Sometimes people have
definite ideas of what they want too. I remember working with the
Little River Band with an English producer many years ago and he had definite
suggestions about what he wanted me to play where. He didn't tell
me exactly what to play rhythmically, but he would say; like, 'I can hear
a triangle here, or I think this section needs congas.' He was good
to work with and he liked the stuff I did. Another time I was working
with Hunters and Collectors and we were looking for something different,
and we just experimented with lots of sounds. I ended up playing
this table with a bit of metal, which was exactly the sound they wanted.
I worked with an American producer who was doing lots of remixes, and as
well as all the standard congas and bongos he was always looking for new
sounds, and they might be just hitting something with different bits of
wood. He was after unusual sounds, and it was great fun to experiment. That way of working, being open, is more or less the way most pop recordings
When someone is writing a song with a particular emotion in mind, do
you have stock standard ways of approaching your parts; do you have particular
percussion colours in mind for example?
"Sometimes I do. If it is a ballad for example, I might go with
certain things that I know will fit. But sometimes I like to try
to do things a bit differently; I like to try to not hear things the same
way all the time. One of the things that is important here is to
have a wide range of instruments to choose from. That definitely
helps. I might want to use a chekere, and each different one has
its own special feeling, so it is good to have a range of different colours
to choose from even when thinking about that one kind of sound."
Do you see any common threads in percussion worldwide, or is it different
with different music cultures?
"There are some common threads in percussion, but each culture or country
or village or whatever does things just a little differently. It
might be panicular playing techniques, or it might be different types of
specific instruments. There are common things within the whole scope
of percussion, but there is great variety there too. There are things
that I have heard Egyptian players do that is reminiscent of some samba
things for example. There are a lot of things that I play in Chilean
and Argentinian music on the bombo that could be used in certain Afro-Cuban
pieces, but they don't have a common origin. There are a lot of common
threads there. When I buy new instruments or come across ones I haven't
heard before I like to find out how they are played authentically in other
words how do the people who use these instruments play them. I think
that is a good starting point, because you are often learning completely
new techniques that may be applicable in other areas. I also strongly
believe that you should do this anyway — learn the 'correct' way before
you try to do your own thing. I like doing it too because it involves
doing research, and I enjoy that."
I find that whole idea intriguing. Using a wind chime to help
convey the idea of perhaps movement, or using timpani to sound like thunder,
these are cliches of sorts. What about when you are trying to convey the
same idea, but without using the obvious choice. What do you think about
in this situation?
"A lot of it is just trial and error, experimentation. The thing
is that you never know what will work in advance, so it's just good to
Do you ever work on ideas to develop that way of thinking? I'm reminded
of David Jones and the exploration he does through his sound scapes.
"I have done that sort of thing in the past, and I do it a lot with
my own music. It's hard to be emotionally specific though. In the
end each listener hears it their own way; so you can't be absolutely sure
that your intention is coming through exactly as you would like.
It is good to practise like that though because it helps broaden your personal
library of sounds. As I keep saying, you need to be open to hearing
things differently, because that makes for a greater range of choices."
One of the best reasons that I would have for studying percussion is
that it includes virtually every musical style. You have already
spoken about your own wide range of styles that you can play; do you have
any particular favourites?
"I look at it this way I will play anything because everything is enjoyable.
I'm very open to things. Maybe that comes from listening to opera and lots
of different things even as a kid. I find it easy to listen to music from
all over the world, be it classical or whatever. I don't have any
prejudices about different kinds of music. As a percussionist I can
visualise myself in almost any musical situation, and often when listening
to music, I do just that; I picture myself in the music, and run through
in my mind what role I might have within it. I do have leanings towards
Latin music and more rhythmic playing, but I enjoy all kinds of music.
It helps to keep my musical outlook quite broad."
To The Beat Of A Different Drum
Interview by Julie Lindsay
Every second Thursday from ten to midnight you can tune into Composers
Collective. The aim of this program is to feature Australian and
international cormposers and performers including professionals, teachers
and students. Being largely interview based the Australian content
is very high usually with local musicians in the studio discussing and
playing their compositions. Many styles of music are represented.
Composers Collective is a program representing and acting for the common
good of composers. On a recent program, local musician Alex Pertout
was featured talking about his activities and his latest cd. Here
is part of that interview.
Alex Pertout is one of the most sought after percussionists in Melbourne. His work can be heard on albums by Kate Ceberano, Redgum, Pseudo Echo,
Vince Jones, Paul Grabowsky, Jeff Pressing, Peter Cupples, The Seekers
and this list goes on. As a freelance percussionist his work entails
live performances, sessions and television work including the Daryl Somers
Show, New Faces, The Midday Show and Hey Hey It's Saturday. His work
can also be heard on the soundtrack of the films Crocodile Dundee, Death
Before Dishonour, The Crossing and many others. He has been employed
at the Victorian College of the Arts as a lecturer since 1984. Alex's
self-titled cd features twelve original compositions that showcase the artist
and musician. Through all of this two things stand out; his diversity
and above all his constant striving for excellence as a musician.
Alex your self-titled cd release features twelve original compositions.
Why has it taken you so long to release your own cd.
"Well, basically I've been freelancing as a percussionist. I studied
at the College of the Arts about ten years ago and since then I started
composing a lot of music. It took a while to get to record. I got a grant to record some stuff about four years ago, but the recording
I did in stages. I did a few tracks and then took a break and then
a few tracks again. It took me about three years on and off to get
it all together."
It's such a variety of recordings too. You're using quite a few
different combinations of musicians from around Melbourne.
"I did a lot of the ground work by myself, putting congas and timbales
and a whole lot of percussion instruments. Then I got some friends
to come in like Virgil Donati, the drummer, played on a few tracks, John
Barrett played sax and flutes on a few tracks, Bobby Venier features on
one track, Linda George sings on one track. Basically I just worked
on my own a lot and I just decided for a certain track to bring someone
in. Also I did a couple of tracks on my own completely. This
goes back to when I used to work at home a lot. I used to enjoy recording
on my eight track recorder and putting a few tracks and putting on the
synths, and spending a bit of time every night and finally coming up with
When you work on your composition do you work with the rhythm first?
"Sometimes. I studied quite a bit of keyboard, enough to have
a bit of knowledge on chord construction. What I do is sometimes
record rhythm and put things on top of that. Sometimes it works the
other way as well, I might have a melody and come up with some chords and
eventually work on the rhythm side, I guess. As a composer you can
get sick of putting a rhythm down and corning up with something every time.
A lot of the things that I had in the studio I had to think of the percussion
Have you had original material recorded before?
"On and off, here and there. I did some recording at the ABC with
Tony Gould recording some original compositions a few years ago.
I've been in a band called Wjaz for about 8 years with Linda George, Penny
Dyer and LindsayField. We used to play the Limerick Arms which is finished
now. They used to always feature one or two of my compositions there
so for years. I kind of recorded them with Wjaz as well. But
as a cd it was a long process that I had to work on for a few years before
I decided that I was happy enough to put something out."
Do you consider yourself a performer first and a composer second?
"I'm enjoying the composition a lot more than some of the performances.
It depends who I play with. I do enjoy recording because I do that a lot
as a percussionist, but then again I teach quite a bit at College, so I
enjoy a bit of everything."
Alex, you were born in Chile and came to Australia at a fairly young
"Yes, I was about 12 or 13 when I came over, from Italy actually.
I lived in Italy for a couple of years."
The South American influence is very obvious in your music, probably
because you're a percussionist but where does it all tie in? Is it the
fact that you're South American that you became a percussionist?
"I'm not sure. When I was young one of the things that l used to
listen to a lot was a band called Santana which was fairly popular in the 70s. Santana was one of the first bands to actually play a rock sound and have
congas and timbales. I was influenced by that and then I started
listening to a lot of Afro-Cuban music and Afro-Brazilian music.
In Chile the music is a little bit different, they're more into guitars,
charango and pan flutes. I've got one track on the cd which features
my mother singing, she is a soprano. It also has a friend of mine,
Alejandro Vargas, playing pan flutes. That's more like the Chilean
sound. Although I would say in South America, 'tropical music' as
it's called, the Cuban sound is popular but I don't remember being influenced
at an early age into that sort of music. Around my place it was opera all
the time. My parents were heavily into opera."
And what about at school?
"The sort of music I can recall was classical music at home or some
Chilean folk music later on. When I was growing up it was more like the
rock thing that was big."
Certainly the Latin-American craze hit Melbourne in the 50s and 60s
"Yes, one of the people who taught me a lot of stuff on Latin percussion
lives in Melbourne. His name is John Litchen. He told me that
in the 1960s there was a lot of that style of music and he was playing a lot
of congas. Once the rock thing came in it destroyed a lot of that
scene. I guess I was sort of after that so I grew up with rock and
then congas came in through that."
So John Litchen has been one of your main influences?
"Well he was great because at the time I was studying syncopation and
things like that but I was looking for someone who had the Latin thing
down and there was no one around really. John was the one."
When you were a teenager Alex, did you constantly want a drum kit and
constantly tapped on the dinner table?
"No, I was tapping a bit but I didn't want a drumkit. I was looking
for some hand drums. Eventually I bought a set of bongos and congas
and developed from there. At first it was more like the hand drums that
fascinated me I guess. Since then I got involved in all facets of
percussion. Percussion is such a wide world so if you're really interested
you get hooked and end up finding out about the different instruments in
Would you say Latin is your speciality?
"I'm not sure anymore. I would say that I play congas and I like
playing congas and I know a lot of the Latin rhythms because I studied
them. I guess a lot of the work that I do is not in the Latin field.
I work with a lot of rock bands and jazz bands. Basically all you're
doing is trying to fit into that music, not necessarily by playing a strictly
Latin thing but just trying to fit in. I met a percussionist years
ago who was playing with Neil Sedaka. He told me something that was
very simple that you either play eighth notes or sixteenth notes. So it wasn't like a traditional thing but basically just trying to fit
How do you fit in with a rock band?
"There are lots of things. I even play with Hunters and Collectors
on a couple of records. I played congas and shakers and tambourines.
I even played a table in one song! Working in the studio is a bit
like that. They play you a track and ask you what do you think?
Sometimes you can't hear congas or shakers in there."
So you became the cream on top to give numbers a certain edge?
"Yes, I have worked with some people. Years ago I worked with
the Little River Band. They had an English producer who knew exactly
what he wanted. He said I'd like to have triangle in the chorus,
tambourine in the verses, congas would be nice in the 'B' section. He had the whole thing worked out because obviously he had worked with
a lot of percussionists. But I work with a lot of people who don't
really know so they just say well do something. I'm talking about
a lot of rock producers. Then again I work with people like Graeme
Lyle who is a great writer. He has a chart for you with things worked
So then they're relying on your sight reading skills?
"Yes, sight-reading and obviously they know you can play."
It's very important, this whole idea of being a session musician. You
need to be able to produce the goods on the spot when they want them.
"A lot of people say to me they want to become session musicians. When I was growing up I never thought of that, I was just playing basically
and I never thought well this is my career, I want to become a session
musician. I was playing in bands and I did a couple of jingles, and
from jingles I got called to a couple of record dates. So, I didn't
know what was required but I was learning as I was going along and then
I went to college and I studied quite a bit of tuned percussion.
Reading is essential if you want to work in that field."
Do you ever use Midi percussion?
"No, not much. I get really bored with it. I have played it in
the studio and stuff like that. I did a film years ago and the writer
wanted to do the whole thing Midi so I ended up playing a lot of percussion
parts on pads and stuff but it was a very strange sort of thing.
I've done it live also, and I don't know, it gets a bit boring playing
a plastic pad all night. Also a lot of the samples and still not
very good unless you do your own samples. But I'd rather have all the percussion
because I have fun playing it."
So how many instruments do you have at home?
"Lots, lots of drums and other things."
Something like the congas, for example, how often do you need to practice
to keep your hands in shape to play those?
"Well, quite a lot. I have played for a long time now, maybe 17
years, so I have developed certain things but still to get to the next
level you have to practice a lot. I have four congas at home.
I play quite a bit so I can keep it going. I'm always learning things
also so I'm always practising new things."
Out of session work, live groups, television work, teaching. What is your favourite?
I enjoy recording a lot, especially when you 're working with friends
and you record things that might be original. I hope to do a lot
more of that in the future. I enjoy a bit of everything really."
As an educationalist do you think students have too much melody, harmony
training and not enough rhythmical training?
"Some of them have. One of the things I do at the College of the
Arts is take a Latin ensemble, I would say I have about forty students
there, in different groups. Anybody can do the percussion ensemble
so I have singers and flute players and a few drummers and percussionists. Basically everyone learns to play some Afro-Cuban, some Afro-Brazilian
rhythms. I find it helps everyone. They all come up to me later and
say that because of the training in some percussion instrunent that they
play throughout the year, they could understand the rhythm section better. A lot of people don't realise that even if you play sax or something like
that, a lot of students don't play very accurately in time. Once
they start playing percussion they really understand, and approach their
instrument with another perspective."
How do you get a percussionist to play in time though? Do you think
people inherently have a certain sense of rhythm and maybe their rhythm
isn't the same as somebody elses?
"I believe so."
How do you address that?
"There are people who have natural talent. They find it very easy
to pick up things and to understand things. Other people have to
work harder. I do come across people who have a lot of problems with
time. Basically I tell them to do what I used to do when I was growing
up and that was to kind of learn a certain thing. I used to, for
example, learn a certain rhythm on a conga drum and play along with the
record, try and fit in and be part of that record and record yourself to
see if you're in time with the record, to see if you're speeding up, slowing
down. I did a lot of that when I was 14, 15. I used to really
enjoy doing that. Nowadays with drum machines and computers it's
easier too because everyone has a drum machine that's perfectly in time
so you can practice along to that and it's a lot more fun than playing
with a little click on a metronome. So you can develop a lot of things
like that. Now everyone has a four track so you can record yourself
and listen back. I would say that's the main problem, a lot of people
don't actually listen to their playing. They play but they never
actually record and listen back.That's one of the things I guess
as a percussionist and as a session musician I learned from the start that
I used to do jobs and listen to my playing back. I used to be very
conscious of where I was playing. If I'm playing with a band
do I sound like I'm a little bit behind or forward. Sometimes in
the studio I'm playing 2 and 4 on a tambourine which might be very basic
but becomes a real job because you have to try and fit in with something
and make it sound like you're part of the whole thing."
This interview was recorded in May 1993 as part of the promotion of
Alex's new cd release entitled Alex Pertout released on the Larrikin
Entertainment label. Available now at most leading record and compact
Pertout Keeps Tuned To The Times
Interview by Rod Whinnett-Smith
3 July 1993
Think of your favourite Australian record of the last 15 years, and
the chances are Alex Pertout's played on it. Hunters And Collectors,
James Reyne, Archie Roach, Pseudo Echo, Goanna, Mondo Rock — the Chilean-bom
master percussionist has lost count of the number of albums he's played
on, but estimates it must be nearing the 100-mark, "I've just played
on Things Of Stone And Wood's new album and recorded with Paul Grabowsky
— that's a big-band double album — and I also played on Debbie Bryne's
new album," he said. "I've also been working with a Malaysian band called
Wings, who've come to Australia to make a double album.
Apparently they are huge back home."
Yesterday, 30 percussionists of varying experience sat engrossed as
Pertout led them through a six-hour workshop organised by Alanvale College's
music department. Novice rock drummers and experienced jazz and Latin
drummers sat transfixed as Pertout took them through the magic rhythms
which have become his trademark. A graduate of and now teacher at
the Victorian College of the Arts, the Melbourne-based master musician
enthuses over current trends in popular music. "With things like
world music happening now, we are taking things from across many different
cultures and using them" he said.
"In the1960s it was the rhythms of the bossa nova from Brazil.
In the 70s you had Carlos Santana introducing Latin rock. Even the
80s disco had something. "People like Gloria Estefan playing Latin
music rather than funk and Peter Gabriel are contributing all sorts of
ideas," he said. Busy writing a percussion tuition text which will
be accompanied by a cd, Pertout said that he was impressed by Alanvale's
commitment to music and was eager to return.
Interview by Andrian Pertout
With over 120 albums to his credit, Alex Pertout
is today undeniably one of Australia's most recorded percussionists, and
if you consider his work in soundtracks, commercials, TV orchestras, theatre
and live performances, he may also prove to be one of Australia's most
diverse percussionists. Some of the artists he has recorded and performed
with include the Australian Art Orchestra, Little River Band with John
Farnham, Japanese fusion band Casiopea, Brian Brown, French artist CharlElie
Couture, Tina Arena, Danii Minogue, Merril Bainbridge, Tommy Emmanuel,
Paul Grabowsky, Tony Gould, Olivia Newton-John, Grace Knight, Melbourne
Symphony Orchestra, Malaysian pop band Wings, Australian Philharmonic Orchestra,
James Morrison, The Seekers, Archie Roach, Brian Cadd, Joe Camilleri, Kate
Ceberano, Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, Pseudo Echo, Mondo Rock and Marc
Hunter. His is a career of humble beginnings, and of an entire youth spent
mostly listening to, analysing and adapting the Afro-Cuban rhythms of his
inspirational gurus Michael Carabello and Jose Chepito Areas from the Carlos
Santana phenomenon of the early seventies. An obsession that consequently
led to a colossal record and book collection, and a widely acknowledged
expertise in the art of Latin American percussion. After graduating
from the College of the Arts in 1983 with distinction in performance and
composition, he went on to also establish a career as a respected educator,
and the eminent release of the Alex Pertout self-titled debut CD and Sight Reading: The Rhythm Book further enhanced his status as one of
Australia's leading percussionists.
How would you describe the important aspects of
being a percussionist in the musical climate of today?
"One of the important aspects is that the educated
percussionist has at his or her disposal an incredible range of instruments
and rhythms, which he or she can easily adapt to a variety of styles. Most
composers, players and producers working in the contemporary popular music
scene nowadays have a lot more knowledge of percussion instruments and
sounds, so the percussionist is not only hired a lot more on recordings
and live performances, but is also asked to be more involved in terms of
being creative, thus contributing on a larger scale. Most of my recordings
are in this area, and so I have a ball!"
Tell me about your musical instrument collection.
What do you consider as some of your most interesting items?
"I love them all! To me they all have some incredible
beauty, even the simplest hand drum.. Apart from my love for African and
Afro-American instruments, I was in India with the Australian Art Orchestra
a while back and saw clay pots (gatham) and little frame drums (kanjira),
which were delightful and are played with an astonishing dexterity. As
far as the ones that are closest to my heart, they include the Brazilian
berimbau (a one-string bow with a gourd resonator), the Afro-Peruvian cajon
(wooden box), the Afro-Cuban congas, the Puerto Rican pandereta which is
used in Plenas, other frame drums, some of Middle Eastern background like
the mazhar and duf, others with Indian connections, finger cymbals, bells,
chimes, all types of shakers, many which I personally make for my recordings,
shekeres, my Argentinean bombo then again, I think I can just keep telling
you about my whole collection!"
Do you have an opinion on analogue versus digital
with regards to capturing the essence of percussive and non-percussive
"The first thing that really impressed me about
digital when it first came in was the clarity. As digital became more widely
used, it set the new standard in that you could listen to bells or shakers
without any hiss, and without the deteriorating noise that affects analogue
tape after many playbacks. I am aware that for some lower frequency sounds
the warmth of the analogue tape is a reality, the way it captures those
sounds, it is different, nevertheless I have found that I can still capture
sounds of instruments with beautiful presence and warmth by choosing the
correct room, mic and position for that particular instrument, and with
the added presence and clarity that digital brings. Many people still prefer
to listen to vinyl rather than cds. For me, the first time I heard my favourite
albums on cd, boy that was an incredible experience. I heard many things
that I never realised were there before, it just captured me right away!"
What recording techniques have you explored so
far in your latest recording project Friendship?
"I have been experimenting with many techniques,
including room sound, close miking, and basically getting the best recorded
sound out of each instrument. I am extremely fussy with my own work and
spend many hours perfecting what I record. Due to my session recording
career, I have also had a chance to be around the best engineers in the
country, people like Ross Cockle, who by the way I always make sure to
include on my own projects, and so I am always observing and asking lots
of questions. This practice has even been going as far as using the Internet
to research more about recording. Some of my favourite recorded percussion
comes from some of the early Santana albums, and I have been fortunate
to have had the chance to communicate with engineer Glen Kolotkin, responsible
for many of those recordings, and who was kind enough to give me excellent
tips on the way he approaches recording instruments, and specially percussion."
How do you generally approach composition as a
percussionist? Is there an eternal struggle between the balance of rhythmic
and melodic content?
"My main concern is to write lyrical pieces which
contain some beautiful rich chords. The rhythmic side helps define which
way the piece might go, but I always feel that I can change that around,
so most of the pieces are not really written with a specific rhythm in
mind, but rather as musical statements which can then be arranged in different
manners. As an example, I wrote a ballad as the main theme of a film soundtrack
a few years back. As I have always enjoyed this piece, I really wanted
to incorporate the piece into my band's repertoire, so I decided to rearrange
it with an Afro-Cuban 6/8 feel underneath. The result is that it works
beautifully. Since then I have recorded it for my up and coming album with
American pianist Mark Levine featured."
Do you have any other special projects on the
"Well, I am surrounded by a variety of people
who bring many diverse and interesting projects my way. Some of these include
a cd and some projected overseas tours with the Australian Art Orchestra,
which is directed by Paul Grabowsky, some performances and a cd with singer
Christine Sullivan for which we also recorded a couple of my compositions.
I recently produced Brian Brown's latest cd Flight, and we are talking
about recording another. Of course I'm finishing my current recording,
which features many outstanding artists including Mike Stern, Tommy Emmanuel,
Mark Levine, Hossam Ramzy, Raul Rekow, Paul Grabowsky, Christine Sullivan,
Steve Wade, Kavisha Mazzella and David Jones, among others. As well as
all that I am also finishing a book and cd on percussion, which features
material which I have been researching and writing for more than twenty
Beating The Bounds
Interview by Jessica Nicholas
6 June 2000
Danii Minogue, John Farnham, Tina Arena not the
sort of names you'd generally associate with a highly respected jazz and
Latin percussionist. But Alex Pertout determined very early in his career
that he would remain open to whatever musical opportunities came his way. The way he sees it, there is value to be found in any project even as a
session musician for a pop artist who may have little or no knowledge of
authentic Latin percussion. Pertout has been a specialist in his field
for more than 20 years, but he refuses to be precious about his expertise
or the way he applies it. "I once played a table on a Hunters and
Collectors record," he says, knocking on a nearby desk to demonstrate.
"But, in the context, it worked. If I can use my skills to help someone
pin down a rhythm or a feel they have in their head, I've fulfilled my
Not that Pertout finds every session equally rewarding.
Naturally, there are some duds along the way. And, naturally, the projects
the percussionist finds most satisfying are those with which he feels a
close creative affinity. He is working on a solo album that will feature
a range of wellknown guest artists, ranging from jazz locals such as Paul
Grabowsky to international names like Tom Coster (Santana; Vital Information)
and Mike Stern. Pertout has been working on the album for several
years, enticing visiting artists from overseas to step into the studio
between concerts. "Some of them are people I've really looked up to. I
mean, I grew up listening to Santana, so I was thrilled that Tom Coster
agreed to play for me," says Pertout.
It's not the first time the percussionist has
looked to touring internationals for assistance. It's a habit he developed
in his early teens, as a young Chilean migrant living in Australia when
Latin music was yet to become popular. He bought records, transcribed solos
and stood outside hotels when touring percussionists were in town, hoping
for a lesson or two. Now, Pertout sits in his office at the Victorian
College of the Arts - where he heads the improvisation department - and
proudly surveys the handsome collection of instruments strewn around the
room. "Twenty years ago, you would never have seen a conga player in an
academic institution," he says with a grin. "It took a long time for jazz
and Latin music to win that kind of respect."
Talking to Pertout, you get the distinct impression
that he was tailormade for his position at the VCA. The college's emphasis
on diversity sits well with a man who has made a career out of admirably
open ears. And his desire to encourage students' creative growth means
he is constantly looking for ways to utilise their many talents.
One of his keenest ambitions for the VCA is to foster links between the
college and the public arena. Tonight, at the Melbourne Concert Hall, he
is coordinating an ambitious event called The Gathering, designed as a
showcase for the VCA's improvisation department. It will feature a startling
array of rhythms, tempos and volume levels, with Latin bigband numbers
and jazz standards, classical harpists and hiphop DJs.
It will also feature many well known names - singers
Christine Sullivan and Kavisha Mazzella; pianists Tony Gould, Sam Keevers
and Joe Chindamo; drummer Peter Jones (Deadstar); and Pertout himself.
All these artists will be performing with VCA students - but as colleagues,
rather than as star soloists. "I really hope that people will see this
not as a school concert, but as a display of great music played at an extremely
high level," says Pertout. "And hopefully people will get a sense of what
an amazingly diverse group of people these students are. "I love
working at the college. I mean, if you walk around here during the day,
there's music everywhere. Most of the people here are incredibly
eager to play and to try everything. It's a really inspiring place to be."
The VCA School of Music presents The Gathering tonight at the Melbourne
Gathering Should Be A Hit!
Interview by Alison Barclay
Herald Sun Arts & Entertainment
29 September 2001
At the VCA, there's more to Improvisation than Jazz! At one time Alex Pertout would have been too cool
for school. Then school became cool and now Pertout and his collection
of bangable, shakable, dingable instruments rule. The school is the
Victorian College of the Arts' School of Music, where percussionist Pertout
is Head of Improvisation and something of a guru to his students.
"We have 77 students and every instrument you could think of," Pertout
says. "Because I am here now and I am running the department we a
lot more percussionists interested in pursuing it as a career. We've
tried to open things up. This is no longer a jazz course
in the traditional sense, we have all kinds of world music styles, too."
Pertout has provided heavy duty rhythms on more
than 140 albums during the past 20 years, including tracks by Powderfinger,
Tina Arena, Chaka Khan, Hunters and Collectors and the Commodores.
His latest is a cd of his own From The Heart with guest spots by his
friends Paul Grabowsky and Tommy Emmanuel. But next week, his students
are making forays into African, Brazilian, a capella, folk and electronica
styles in annual event known as The Gathering. This year's Gathering will also feature vocal group Coco's Lunch (who are former students),
guest lecturers Valanga Khoza and drummer David Jones, Pertout jamming
with assorted Latin groovers and even the VCA's Head of Music, piano wildman
But can the newcomers hold their own against the
pros? Pertout has faith. "Obviously the standard is quite high
because as soon as you come into the college you go straight into an ensemble"
he says. "Without the right experience you wouldn't get through the
audition process. It is quite tough. We often have 300 people
auditioning for 25 places. Last year we had 65 singers audition and
we took five. We might have 70 drummers and we might take four or
five". Once in, the students do get to try many new directions, especially
if they see what marvels in Pertout's office. "I've collected a lot
of instruments from around the world." he says. The Gathering", Iwaki
Auditorium, ABC Centre, Southgate, Monday at 7:30.
From The Heart
Interview by Rob Walker
It has been the case for many years in Australia, one man's name is
synonymous with professional percussion — Alex Pertout is the percussionist's
percussionist. He specialises in Latin percussion and with credits
on over 140 albums is one of Australia's most recorded artists. His
cv reads like a who's who of the music industry, and he has performed with
aplomb in every genre imaginable from contemporary rock to jazz to soloist
with the world famous Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, on film sound tracks
and television. Rob Walker spoke to Alex Pertout in hisoffice at
the Victorian College of the Arts where he is Head of Improvisation, on
the occasion of the release of his new album From the Heart.
Alex Pertoul was born in Santiago, Chile, Iived in Italy and settled
in Australia in 1972. A formally trained musician from the age of 15, Alex
isnow spending a great deal of his time educating others, and does so with
a view to seeing young musicians embark on career in music. He expounds
a well-rounded music education for drummers and percussionists if they
are to develop a career. "At the VCA we require all percussionists
to learn piano, not to be a pianist necessarily, but to develop a knowledge
of music. I would strongly recommend that drummers learn as much
about the craft as possible — with the advent of the internet the world
is much smaller, find out about African styles, Latin styles and incorporate
that into your kit playing — this not only assists in composition and developing
a unique style, but also may provide a variety of work opportunities."
Percussion has the benefit of having an almost endless supply of instruments.
"Everywhere I go on tour, I collect a new instrument, and as you get into
it all these instruments develop new techniques — a knowledge of all these
instruments can also transfer to applications on your drum kit. I
am amazed by young musicians nowadays, they are so open to everything,
and you can get such good instruments these days."
As a composer and producer Alex has written for several short films,
but his latest project, his own album is closest to his heart. From the
Heart was written and produced by Alex and features a fine array of some
of the best musicians in the world. People like Mike Stem, Tommy
Emmanuel (guitar), Tom Coster (keyboards), Paul Grabowsky (fender rhodes),
Mark Levine (piano), Darryn Farrugia, David Jones (drums), Craig Newman,
Ben Robertson (bass), Raul Rekow (congas), and many more. "My mother,
a soprano sings on the record and my son Julian plays bells here and there,
my brother Adrian appears and I wrote a tune for my Dad who passed away
a couple of years ago, so it is a very personal album."
"The album was recorded using new technologies including a couple of
Alesis Adat, Audio Technica mics, a Mackie 24-8 Desk, and Logic Audio software
— Ross Cockle mixed it to Dat. I experimented a lot with mic placement
and using different rooms in my house." After contributing
to hundred's of artists records over the years, Alex is seeking to record
more of his own material. At this stage of my life I'd like
to get a lot more of my own material recorded, develop my composition skills
and if I am able to find avenues for this and get the percussionist up
to the front of the band I will be grateful." AIex cannot name
a career highlight, rather many highlights. "I have loved all the
recordings I've done, all the fantastic artists I have had the opportunity
to work with, I have been lucky."...the artists who have had the
benefit of Alex's playing over the years may be the lucky ones.
From The Heart
Interview by Andrian Pertout
7 November 2001
Alex Pertout’s career as a percussionist has certainly been an eclectic
one so far, having worked over the years as a musical director, record
producer, engineer and performer, among many things, and covering areas
as diverse as soundtracks, jingles, television and theatre orchestras.
His name adorns the cd sleeves of every major Australian artist, endowing
him with a collection of over 140 album credits and the indisputable reputation
as ‘Australia’s most recorded percussionists. Not to mention his
other passion as an educator, which in recent times has manifested itself
within the title of Head of the Improvisation Department at the Victorian
College of the Arts in Melbourne. Alex is also percussion writer
for Drumscene (the national drumming magazine) and a correspondent for
US publication Drum! His contribution to the education literature Sight Reading: The Rhythm Book (MP Publications) for instrumentalists
and vocalists now scheduled for worldwide release this month via renown
US publishing house Mel Bay. Alex’s worldwide endorsements include
Meinl congas and percussion, Sabian cymbals and Vater sticks. His
latest offering as composer/performer is titled ‘From the Heart’ and highlights
performances by a world acclaimed cast, which includes such legendaries
as Mike Stern (Miles Davis), Tom Coster (Santana, Vital Information), Tommy
Emmanuel, Mark Levine (Cal Tjader, Poncho Sanchez), Raul Rekow (Santana)
and Hossam Ramzy (Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant & Jimmy Page), as well
as local illuminaries Paul Grabowsky, Joe Chindamo (Billy Cobham), Kavisha
Mazzella, Christine Sullivan, Steve Wade (Little River Band), Darryn Farrugia,
Mary Doumany, Craig Newman and David Jones, among others. Tracks Káfela and For My Father (a dedication to the late Aleksander
Herman Pertout) featuring the beautiful voice of his mother, soprano Cecilia
What have you been up to lately? What do you consider as your
main source of work these days?
"I have always divided my professional time between performing, recording
and teaching. And I have been performing with various ensembles –
these include the Australian Art Orchestra which is led by Paul Grabowsky.
This orchestra performs in concert around Australia, and has toured Europe
and Asia. And we get to perform regularly at the Sydney Opera House,
as the orchestra is a resident ensemble that’s presented in concert by
the Opera House several times per year. I have also been performing
with my own ensemble ‘Alex Pertout & Friends’, including a performance
of two of my originals on ABC TV's Coast To Coast featuring Christine
Sullivan and Joe Chindamo; with pianist Tony Gould and David Jones; and
with pianist Colin Hopkins in a trio setting. And I have been in
the studio recording with various producers, including Chong Lim; tracks
for Christine Anu; Shout - The Legend of the Wild One featuring David
Campbell, produced by Col Joye; with a cappella ensemble Coco's Lunch;
on soundtracks including The Shiner, starring Michael Caine, produced
by Paul Grabowsky; La Spagnola, produced by Cesary Skubiszebski; The
Goddess of 1967, produced by Jen Anderson; and jingles with Frank Strangio.
I have also been doing radio interviews to promote my latest cd From The
Heart; and putting final touches on my Sight Reading: The Rhythm Book, which is about to be released internationally by noted US publishers Mel
Bay in November, 2001. I was the artistic director of ‘The Gathering’
– a concert presented by the Victorian College of the Arts on at the Iwaki
Auditorium featuring various artists, including Tony Gould, David Jones,
Coco's Lunch, Valanga Khoza and Rob Burke. And I have been writing
my regular articles for the Australian publication Drumscene and US publication Drum! Adding to that I have been running the Improvisation Department
at the Victorian College of the Arts! All in all not too much free
time for dull moments in there!”
Has it been hard to get a balance between the musical career of Alex
Pertout 'the percussionist’ and your current position as Head of Improvisation
at the College of the Arts, or have you simply learnt to work at a faster
rate? How do the two go hand in hand?
“I try to pace myself, and also, choose the types of projects I get
involved in carefully, in order to maximise my time. My position
as the Head of the Improvisation Department at the Victorian College of
the Arts is demanding in terms of the running of the department, but in
terms of myself as the musician they go hand in hand. I mean, it’s
a performance college, and so the place acknowledges the importance of
the careers of its staff members and allows some freedom in order to keep
all staff members developing as artists. In terms of the actual classes
that I take, I am always part of the ensembles that I direct as a player.
And as an educator, the research involved keeps me extremely interested
in developing my skills on the various instruments I play further.
The college is such a creative environment that it’s inspiring for both
the students and staff. In running the department I also make sure
that we have the best staff available – in terms of great players who are
enthusiastic and strong educators – and I am constantly looking for interesting
guests in order to keep the place alive. Some of the department's
recent guests include the legendary Joe Zawinul, Indian master drummer
and composer Karaikudi R. Mani, guitarist Mike Stern, drummer Chad Wackerman,
pianist and composer Paul Grabowsky and master drummer David Jones.”
Your music room is an exciting creative environment, with lots and lots
of percussion gear? What has been the input of some of your current
“Well as a percussionist I am forever the ‘collector’, and so it keeps
growing. As far as my endorsements are concerned I have this wonderful
connections with three great companies: Meinl, a fantastic percussion company
who I believe are developing some of the best rhythmic percussion instruments
in the world; Sabian cymbals, who apart from their drum kit based cymbals
also carry and continue to develop wonderful orchestral and new percussive
sounds; and Vater, who make some of the most innovative and well-made sticks
How did the Meinl endorsement come about?
“I was approached by Electric Factory's Bill O'Meara through Frank Corniola
as they were signing a distribution deal with Meinl for Australia.
As I was performing with my band at the Ultimate Drummer's Day in June,
it was decided that they would organise to get some gear in especially
for that performance, which was also marking the launch of my latest cd.
Meinl's Udo Heubeck came to Australia and was most complimentary of my
performance, my band, my music and cd, and welcomed me as a new member
of the Meinl family. I must say that in terms of this family I am
in great company with wonderful players, such as the great Luis Conte who
has been developing instruments for them, including a fantastic set of
timbales and bells. And one of my all-time heroes, the master Mongo
Santamaria, who was instrumental in the development of the ‘Professional
Conga Series’ that I endorse. As they are expanding in its percussive
line, they are also in touch with some other wonderful players, like my
London-based friend Hossam Ramzy, who is developing an Egyptian tabla for
them. And they are also looking at udus (clay pots) and cajones (boxes)
in the future. The catalogue is vast and they make congas, bongos,
set of bata drums, timbales, talking drums, tambora, all types of shakers
including great eggs in different sizes, cabasas, shekeres, caxixis, berimbau,
beautiful cowbells, some hand-hammered in copper, brass and steel, guiros
and djembes. All in all very well made products that sound great
both live and in the recording studio. And apart from the various
instruments, many stands, including a sturdy and extremely portable conga
stand (as it folds), which is cleverly designed.”
Tell me about your latest album ‘From the Heart’. Who are some
of the soloists featured on this release?
“I wrote the pieces, and started recording several years ago.
As the record grew, so did the list of players involved as I contacted
artists who were touring, and also many of my Melbourne-based friends to
play on suitable tracks at different stages. The record features
a wonderful cast of eclectic players who played beautifully on the record.
They include ex-Miles Davis guitarist Mike Stern, Vital Information and
ex-Santana keyboardist and composer Tom Coster, guitarist Tommy Emmanuel,
pianist Paul Grabowsky, pianist, composer and author Mark Levine, Egyptian
master drummer Hossam Ramzy, vocalist Kavisha Mazzella, Santana's conguero
Raul Rekow, vocalist Christine Sullivan, pianist Joe Chindamo, vocalist
Steve Wade, flautist John Barrett and drummers David Jones and Darryn Farrugia,
among others. As I recorded the album over a number of years and
without a deadline, it gave me the opportunity to develop the project in
the most productive and creative way. Now the record is out and is
getting attention, in terms of strong reviews and air play around.”
How did you record and mix the album? Could you explain the use
“Most of the album was recorded in my own studio using Adat's, except
for a couple of location recordings, such as acoustic piano at Allan Eatons.
And I also used a Mackie 24.8 desk with Audio Technica and Electro Voice
microphones. I used a stereo pair of Audio Technica mikes extensively
on the album. And it was through correspondence with legendary US
engineer Glen Kolotkin (Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Santana) that I discovered
the Electro Voice RE-20 microphones, which have been around for decades,
and are great on drums and percussion. They were a big part of the
Santana percussion sound in the early seventies, which Glen captured so
well. I started the project recording on tape with Adat's, and towards
the end of the project I upgraded my pc (Pentium 3 – 933 MHz, 384 MB Ram)
to facilitate the use of Logic Audio, allowing me to record directly to
hard disk. This was achieved via an Adat edit card, which has 8 in
and 8 out. And so I ended up using one of the Adat's essentially
as an analog to digital converter. I mixed the album with engineer
Ross Cockle with Logic Audio, and hired outboard gear including a beautiful
Lexicon reverb. The cd was mastered by Don Bartley in Sydney at Studios
What special projects do you have scheduled for the near future?
“As always I have various projects with artists as a percussionist,
but I am also currently working on a new solo release featuring percussion
and voices. The record will also feature master drummers such as
Raul Rekow and Hossam Ramzy, as well as vocalists Kavisha Mazzella, Valanga
Khoza and the a cappella group Coco's Lunch. I am extremely keen
to record and release more and more of my own music and special projects.
I just need to get a little more time… There should be a few more
hours in a day… Maybe I could sleep fewer hours?..."
Exploring Melbourne's Latin Jazz Scene With Alex Pertout
Interview by Pat Reid
One of Australia’s leading percussionists, Alex Pertout balances a busy
recording career with teaching work at the Victorian College of Arts.
His self-titled debut album is now available on the Larrikin label.
It's an atmospheric affair, fittingly so for someone who has contributed
his deft percussive touch to movies like Crocodile Dundee. "What
I've mainly been doing for the last ten years is recording with other people
as a studio percussionist, I studied at the Victorian College of the Arts
which has an improvisation course about ten years ago. That's when
I started composing and now I made this record, but it has taken a while
to get to this point."
Would you describe yourself as a Latin-jazz percussionist?
"In some ways I guess, but I have been involved in so many other types
of styles, apart from many bands, I have also worked with television orchestras,
and even done theatre work where I played all sorts of percussion, including
You come from Chile originally, do you feel more Chilean than Australian?
“I grew up in Australia really, I left Chile when I was about ten years
old and then lived in Italy for a couple of years, but I basically grew
up here, I went to school here, met a lot of players here, my professional
life basically developed her
Moving To The Beat
Interview by Emma Watts
Diamond Valley Leader
23 October 2002
Eltham percussionist Alex Pertout has developed a reputation as one
of Australia's most diverse musicians. While his name may not be
familiar, many people probably own a record featuring his distinctive sound.
Pertout has worked on albums for artists such as Hunters and Collectors,
Powderfinger, Daryl Braithwaite and the Little River band with John Franham
and also has appeared as a soloist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
In his latest musical offering he will perform a tribute to jazz legend
Charlie Parker, as a member of the Australian Art Orchestra. "It's
an amazing piece, based on Charlie Parker's life," he said. “We performed
it at the Sydney Opera House in January, and now we’ll get a chance to
play it in Melbourne as part of the Melbourne Festival.”
Since deciding at 17 that he wanted to become a professional musician,
Pertout has played almost every genre of music and is Head of the Improvisation
Department at the Victorian College of the Arts. He said it was the
diverse nature of his work that made it so exciting. As a freelance
percussionist, I get to do lots of different things” he said. “It
keeps it really interesting, it also means I get to work on other people's
projects as well as my own.” Testimony: The Legend of Charlie Parker will be performed at the Melbourne
Concert Hall as part of the Melbourne Festival this Friday and Saturday.
Composer, Producer, Percussionist
Interview by Ray Deegan
Issue 26 -
Alex Pertout is one of the most recorded musicians in Australia with
over 140 album recording credits to his name Alex has performed with just
about every notable musician in the country covering all genres from Latin-jazz
to contemporary rock. He is the author of one of the best selling
educational texts Sight Reading: The Rhythm Book, and is the Head of
the Improvisation Department at the Victorian College of the Arts. This
year’s Drummer’s Weekend will see the launch of Alex’s second solo cd
(first solo cd self titled). With the release of this second solo effort eminent, I began by asking
Alex what the original concept was when he began writing for this.
My main aim has always been to develop my writing skills and to produce
music from the heart. As I have played on many, many projects this
project gives me a chance to develop my own voice, whatever that may be
and arrive at what I really feel close to in terms of the big picture as
a solo artist. By that I mean I am taking on many tasks. First
of all I am composing the music, arranging the parts, playing keyboards,
mallet percussion and of course all of the rhythm percussion. It
also means engineering the recording sessions in my own studio, coordinating
the overall project by approaching the players for each track and basically
covering the whole process right through to the mixing sessions with Ross
Cockle, mastering session with Don Bartley at Studios 301 in Sydney.
I approach the whole recording project the way a painter might work with
a canvas. In my case I explore the possibilities found in the recording
studio and work until I feel completely satisfied with the outcome.
I enjoy the recording studio and as I understand the environment and the
possibilities I try to develop every aspect possible. I love the
production aspects and admire the sounds of recordings produced by artists
such as Pat Metheny and Peter Gabriel to name but two.
Who are some of the players used on the cd?
As I have had no deadline (until now!) I have had the opportunity
to ask many wonderful artists to take part in my project over the time.
Some include many colleagues whom I have worked for many years, players
such as Joe Chindamo, Paul Grabowsky, Colin Hopkins, Tommy Emmanuel, Christine
Sullivan, Kavisha Mazzella, Steve Wade, Craig Newman, Jeremy Alsop, John
Barrett, Darryn Farrugia, David Jones and Matt Kirsh, while the internationals
whom I have approached include guitarist Mike Stern, the wonderful Egyptian
percussionist Hossam Ramzy, Tom Coster from Vital Information and Santana
fame, pianist Mark Levine who used to play with Cal Tjader and Poncho Sanchez
and is also the author of The Jazz Piano Book and Raul Rekow long time
Santana member, friend, amazing conguero and an inspiration.
Who is in the band for the Drummers Weekend launch and what are your
marketing and distribution plans for the cd following the drummers weekend?
My performance at the Drummer's Weekend will consist of a showcase
of my compositions from the album performed with my band which features
players such as Craig Newman, Darryn Farrugia and Peter Grech. As
far as the cd is concerned it will be marketed throughout Australia and
New Zealand by Vorticity Music. One of the tracks has been featured
on a compilation by American magazine JAZZIZ titled Percussion On Fire and so I intend to contact some companies with a view to release the project
in other territories in the near future. In any case I see this as
a start of many wonderful original projects for myself which will keep
on developing. I am already half way through recording another project,
this time a percussion cd featuring performances by guest percussionists Raul
Rekow, John Annas, Hossam Ramzy and Peter Grech.
My Instrument: Bongo Box Takes Some Beating
Interview by Rozzi Bazzani
Herald Sun Arts & Entertainment
17 July 2002
The rhythm of life is a powerful beat for Chilean born Australian percussionist
Alex Pertout. Pertout, a recording artist and Head of Improvisation
at the Victorian College of the Arts, says that while a percussionist has
many instruments to master, the search for new instruments and new sounds
is ongoing. “I’m looking and listening all the time for instruments
that I can incorporate into my own collection of sounds” he says.
The berimbau, vibraphone and congas are three he especially loves playing,
but he says the sound and versatility of a simple wooden instrument called
a cajon, which is Spanish for box, is one of his favourites. Pertout
says he heard the cajon before he knew what is was; before he had any conscious
thought of playing percussion. “Growing up my parents were into opera”
he says, “so that’s what we listened to at home. It was either that
or you listened to Andean music. There wasn’t a lot of music with
drums around. Then my fanmily went to Italy.” On Italian radio,
Pertout heard a conglomeration of sounds from Latin America. “I heard
a lot of different styles, unusual sounds, everything from Chilean folk
music to Brazilian pop to Santana. The sound of the cajon was there.
I think I related to the rhythms of South America as a kind of longing
for my roots. I was drawn to percussion for that reason.”
After years of performing and recording with major artists, Pertout
says he remains struck by its versatility. “I like the fact that
you can incorporate it into so many styles, from orchestral music to a
duet…sometimes I’ve played the box in place of a drummer with rock musicians,
and the box does it, it’s such as full sound.” The latest in Pertout’s
array of cajones arrived via the internet. Pedro Barriera, a drum
maker from Puerto Rico asked him to play his newly designed wooden bongo
box. “Pedro saw the cajones from Peru and Cuba and has designed a cajon based on bongo drums.” he says.
Percussion On Fire!
Interview by Michael Koretzky
During the late 90s Jazziz ran a worldwide talent search, where some
of the biggest names in jazz served as judges. Alex Pertout was a
winner in the drum category, judged by Peter Erskine, Paulinho Da Costa
and David Samuels, so where is Pertout now?
Since he was declared a 'JAZZIZ On Fire' winner, Alex Pertout has been burning
the midnight oil. Not only is he promoting his latest album, last
year’s From The Heart (Vorticity Music), but he is also teaching, writing
and gigging. Pertout was born in Chile and lived in Italy for a time,
but he has called Australia home since 1972. And Australians have
called upon him often; Pertout regularly plays the famed Sydney Opera House
as part of the Australian Art Orchestra; he is a regular contributor to
the Australian publication Drumscene, and he is the Head of the Improvisation
Department (formerly the 'Jazz Department') at the Victorian College of
the Arts, which is affiliated with Melbourne University. “In running
the department I am constantly looking for interesting guests in order
to keep the place alive” Pertout says, “Some of the department’s recent
guests have included the legendary Joe Zawinul, Indian master drummer Karaikudi
R. Mani, guitarist Mike Stern, drummer Chad Wackerman, pianist composer
Paul Grabowsky and master drummer David Jones.”
However Pertout isn’t staying down under. He also writes for
the US publication Drum! and recently authored Sight Reading: The Rhythm
Book, a book for instrumentalists and vocalists designed to develop sight
reading and rhythmic skills. It was released worldwide by US publisher
Mel Bay late last year. Oh, and he maintains a personal website,
check out alexpertout.com
The VCA: School For Stars
Interview by Simon Plant
Herald Sun Weekend Cover Story
2 November 2002
The Fame Academy: Our brightest starts learned their craft at the Victorian
College of the Arts, on its 30th birthday Simon Plant celebrates with them.
Art just happens…or some people think. Far from gushing out of
a deep well of creativity, a symphony or a sculpture is actually bent,
hammered and willed into shape. It’s hard labour, and there is no
guarantee your artistic vision will enjoy success. Thank goodness
for the Victorian College of the Arts. For 30 years this cultural
institution has nurtured dancers and musicians, actors and directors, stage
managers and lighting designers and given them the confidence to face the
world. Actor Sibylla Budd, film director Gillian Armstrong, artist Ricky Swallow
and writer Hannie Rayson, all VCA graduates were invited this week’s 30th
Anniversary Alumni Cocktail Bash. Guests were reminded how the
college evolved from the National Gallery of Victoria Art School into a
hub of learning with schools of art, music, dance, drama, film and television
At a time when hardheads are trimming the budgets of performing and
visual arts courses, the party also underlined the VCA’s vital role in
arming artists with essential skills, creative and commercial. As
college director Professor Andrea Hull put it “The artistic activity of
the VCA alumni is really our greatness litmus test as to the relevance
and quality of courses offered at the college.” Most of all the VCA bash was fun, a chance to reel back the years over
a flute of fizz and remember the struggles, challenges and excitement of
student days. Award winning film maker Emma Freeman spoke for many
when she declared “I would never be in the position I am today without
the VCA, It challenged me in ways I could never have imagined.” Here
are some VCA graduates in a mood to celebrate:
Alex Pertout - Musician (School of Music 1981-1983)
It nurtures the next wave, our artists of the future, but the VCA also
attracts established artists who want to pass on the creative torch.
Actor Geoffrey Rush gave a masterclass at the college after winning an
Oscar. Painter Lewis Miller returned to work with printmakers after
winning an Archibald. And musician Alex Pertout is Head of Improvisation,
twenty years after graduating from the School of Music. “There’s a real family feel here” the versatile percussionist says.
“The camaraderie between graduates and currents students is amazing.”
A “guru” to about 80 students, Pertout charts a musical course that spans
the globe, from Latin rhythms and gamelan sounds to African chants and
indigenous beats. “We’ve tried to open up the whole thing” he says
of the three year Bachelor of Music Performance course.
Which is exactly what musician Brian Brown intended when he broke with
orchestra orthodoxy and initiated 'improv studies' in 1980. Pertout
was one of the first to enroll: “I had a clear idea of what I wanted to
do; be a percussionist, record, compose and work with all kinds of instruments.
I could do that there.”
A prolific music maker, Pertout also credits the VCA with teaching how
to listen, and to prosper in a competitive music profession. “For
me it was, and still is, an inspirational environment.
Alex Pertout: A VCA Profile
His ability is known worldwide... Warwick McFayden (The Sunday Age).
Head, Improvisation Department,
VCA School of Music Graduate 1983. Alex Pertout is one of Australia's leading percussionists and with credits
on hundreds of albums, soundtracks and jingles is undeniably one of Australia's
most recorded musicians. He has toured Europe and Asia with the Australian
Art Orchestra, has performed as a soloist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra,
and has recording, performance and television orchestra credits with an
array of artists ranging from Jackson Browne, Badi Assad, Casiopea, James
Morrison and the Little River Band w/John Farnham to Brian Brown and Powerfinger.
He has produced cds as a multi-instrumentalist and composer, and has written
a book on sight reading rhythm, which is distributed worldwide by distinguished
US publishers Mel Bay. Alex has established himself as a respected educator
and since 2000 has been the Head of the Improvisation Department at the
VCA. Comprising 88 students, the Improvisation Department has grown to
become the largest department in the School of Music.
Alex studied improvisation and composition at the VCA and as he puts
it: "I never really left, I graduated in 1983 and have been part of the
faculty in one way or another ever since." It is to Alex's credit,
and that of previous Improvisation Department Heads Brian Brown and Tony
Gould (currently Head of the School of Music), that many of the outstanding
sessional staff who teach in the Department are VCA alumni. The extensive
talents and experience that sessional staff bring to the College foster
the diverse and varied interests of the students. VCA alumni who teach
in the Department include: Ashley Cross, Rob Vincs, Adrian Sherriff, Andrea
Keller, Fiona Burnett, Daryl McKenzie, Monique Di Mattina, Darryn Farrugia,
Craig Newman, Ben Robertson, Vicki King, Belinda Moody, Rob Burke, Evripides
Evripidou, James Richmond, Michael Kontachristos, Peter Petrucci, Steve
Magnusson and Chris Sommervelle.
The tradition of improvisation, jazz and world music education was firmly
established worldwide in the 1980s. Alex refers to the historical
importance of this tradition but he is acutely aware of the environmental
and societal influences that have caused an evolution in the scene around
the world. "Global communication has certainly changed the way our
students are going to shape their future. The internet has had a
huge impact on obtaining contacts, getting your projects and recordings
around, and has helped us enormously in our quest here of becoming part
of the global music community. It's an exciting time for everyone and I
certainly encourage our students to be open minded and pursue all avenues.
It’s a different world, and these new areas for the creative students we
attract are extremely exciting."
"With that in mind we continuously discuss and evolve the course curriculum
so that students are well equipped for the world's stage. I see that it
is very important for them to be able to individually lead, not just in
a musical sense but to be able to direct individual projects. Nowadays
you have to be really versatile in many areas, and musically branch out
and understand many styles. And that’s one area I am proud of our
curriculum development, the fact that we are offering our students the
chance to be part of a Gamelan Ensemble, an Indigenous Ensemble, an
Experimental Free-Form Ensemble, a Jazz Big Band, a Latin Ensemble,
a Guitar Ensemble, a Vocal Ensemble, a Percussion Ensemble, all these
incredible sounds will definitely have some impact in their growth and
development as creative performers, composers at some stage of their lives."
Collaboration is an integral concept to the Improvisation Department
and it occurs at many levels. Alex values the opportunity to work together
with students, alumni and staff both within the course and outside the
College. "When I was studying here I was playing with Brian Brown and Tony
Gould. It’s the other way around now and that's the way the cycle works."
During his appointment as Head of Department, Alex has attracted an array
of outstanding national and international musicians to come and work with
the students. Guest artists have included Joe Zawinul, Mike Stern, Raul
Rekow, Karaikudi R. Mani, T. V. Vassan, Chad Wackerman, Paul Grabowsky,
Lew Soloff, Gary Costello, Clayton Cameron, Niko Schauble, Christine Sullivan,
Joe Geia, Scott Tinkler, Kavisha Mazzella, Valanga Khoza, Jim Kelly, Lou
Bennett and David Jones among others.
One of the highlights of the annual VCA performance calendar is The
Gathering - a showcase of the work and talent of the Improvisation Department
which Alex initiated. Guest artists are invited to perform alongside current
students and alumni. Previous guests have included singer-songwriter Shane
Howard of Goanna fame, jazz singers Michelle Nicole and Christine Sullivan,
singer-songwriter Kavisha Mazzella, indigenous artist Joe Geia, master
drummer David Jones, pianist and Head of School Tony Gould, saxophonists
Jamie Oehlers and Rob Burke, classical guitarist and Head of Guitar Anthony
Field, guitarist John Norton, a capella group Coco’s Lunch and South African
singer Valanga Khoza.
Following The Gathering in 2002 guest artist Shane Howard wrote Alex
a thank you letter which in part included: "It was a wonderful experience
to play music with such a young and talented group of musicians. I was
thoroughly impressed by the level of their musicianship and their ability
to improvise on stage. Their youthful enthusiasm is an inspiration."
Alex's prolific recording career has culminated most recently with the
release of a new cd titled From The Heart. The album, featuring ten original
compositions, celebrates the art of collaboration. Alex has gathered some
of the world's great musicians to play on the album. The impressive line
up includes legendary guitarist Mike Stern (Miles Davis), pianists Tom
Coster (Santana), Mark Levine (Cal Tjader), Paul Grabowsky and Joe Chindamo,
celebrated Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, Hossam Ramzy (Peter Gabriel,
Robert Plant & Jimmy Page) and singers Kavisha Mazzella and Christine
Sullivan. From the Heart also features Raul Rekow the master
percussionist from the Santana band who recently visited the VCA and worked
with students from the Improvisation Department.
From The Heart has been enthusiastically reviewed by the national and
international media. Bryan Patterson in the Herald-Sun wrote “This
album of outstanding work reveals Chilean born Pertout warmly embracing
a panoply of musical influences…in short: Outstanding!” Victor Rendon
in Latin Percussionist (USA) wrote “This is a fine cd that conveys a wide
range of emotions with excellent compositions” Warwick McFadyen in
The Sunday Age said “Musicality is musicality and on From The Heart, which
he (Alex Pertout) composed and arranged, he has it dripping from his sticks…an
accomplished piece of work.”