Tony Succar: Percussionist with a Big Bang Theory

Tony Succar
Tony Succar – Photo courtesy of the artist

Tony Succar could have been a professional sportsman – a football [soccer] player to be precise. Two things kept the Peruvian-American from making his dreams a reality: The first was that he didn’t get a sports scholarship when he graduated from high school. More important, however, was the fact that by the time he graduated he already had a burgeoning career as a professional musician. You see, the fact of the matter is that by the time he was thirteen years old Mr Succar was playing drums in a band led by his parents – pianist Antonio F. Succar and singer Mimy Succar Tayrako Sakaguchi. The family’s musical tradition goes back several generations; it began with Mr Succar’s paternal great-grandparents, the Mexican composer Lauro D. Uranga and Spanish flamenco dancer Adelina Esteve Gregory.

Music was probably in his blood by the time he was born. In fact, at three years of age, Mr Succar was already playing the Peruvian cajón. He soon graduated to timbales and then, naturally, to playing the conventional drum set. When his scholarship did not materialise he turned to something he seemed cut out to do, which was music; something he chose to study at the Florida International University, School of Music. Here he seemed a natural fit for the school’s Latin Jazz Orchestra, where he excelled as a percussionist and drummer.

Playing timbales at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center 2019

Mr Succar did not disappoint the teachers in the music faculty; he went on to make them proud. In fact his graduation concert was probably one of the more memorable events in the year in which he graduated. This event was later to become his first release entitled Live at The Wertheim Performing Arts Centre and included three original arrangements – of Herbie Hancock’s “Eye of the Hurricane”, Wayne Shorter’s “Adam’s Apple” and Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” – and three original compositions – “Pa Oyichan”, “A Mi Manera” and “No Te Confundas”. During the concert, Mr Succar also gave an astounding performance on various percussion instruments – most especially a breathtaking solo performance with a pair of maracas.

Not long after this Mr Succar seemed to come of age with his colossal Unity project, which also turned out to be the definitive Latin Jazz Tribute to Michael Jackson. The music for this album and stage show was extremely popular. It was also critically acclaimed and it brought together more than 100 musicians: Latin superstars Tito Nieves, Jon Secada, La India, Obie Bermúdez, Jennifer Peña, Michael Stuart, Angel López, Sheila E. [who also hosted the live performance], Judith Hill, Jean Rodriguez, Fernando Vargas, Maribel Diaz and Kevin Ceballo. The production also featured the engineering [mixing] magic of Michael Jackson’s legendary engineer Bruce Swedien. Best of all, Unity was presented on PBS TV by no less a personage as Gloria Estefan.

However, Mr Succar was snubbed at all of the awards features that followed the album’s release and he had to wait until his next album, Más De Mí before the Academy took notice. At the 2020 awards ceremonies for musical work released during the year 2019, Mr Succar won two Latin Grammys. The first was Best Album as well as Producer of the Year – both in the Salsa Category for Más De Mí; this over heavyweights such as Eddie Palmieri, Julio Reyes and Alejandro Sanz. And now Mr Succar has followed that monumental production with another – this time forming the Raíces Jazz Orchestra with saxophonist and arranger Pablo Gil. After the release Mr. Succar made time to talk to me about many things including his latest project with Mr Gil. Here are excerpts:

Raul da Gama: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Tony… Please tell me a bit about yourself.

Tony Succar: I was born in Peru and came to Miami, FL when I was three years old. I was fortunate to be born into a musical family. My mom is a singer and my Dad is a pianist. My grandmother is also a singer, and as you know, my great grandfather was a master violinist and composer, and the list goes on. My parents always played traditional music from Peru, and I’ve been listening to that style of music since I was born. The first instrument that I picked up and started playing was a cajón, a ubiquitous instrument in Afro-Peruvian music.  I also used it a lot in my Michael Jackson tribute album. I play it a lot and I really enjoy the results; not only fusing different musical elements together; but I strongly believe that in doing so you can create rich musical refreshing sounds.

I’ve been exposed to so many cultures growing up in Miami. It’s been a true blessing for me, especially during school. I studied jazz performance at FIU. During my school years, I would spend countless hours just jamming with different students and learning from their cultural musical backgrounds. Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Peruvians, Venezuelans, Dominicans, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, you name it…

You learn that each country has many distinct styles of music. They contain their unique traditional instruments as well as particular orchestration and arranging styles. Every country is a musical journey on its own. I always try to learn as much as I can from my peers. Learn from their cultures to discover new ways to fuse different elements with my musical inspiration.

Raul Da Gama
Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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