Jack Costanzo started out as a dancer but self-education which included three trips to Havana in the 1940s made him a bongero (bongo master) and he was in instant demand both with jazz and Latin orchestras.
His first exposure to the instrument came when he was 14 years old at a ballroom dance concert in his home town of Chicago.
Costanzo probably did more to introduce the bongos to North American music than any other single artist.
Here’s a short list of some of the artists he collaborated with over the years:
Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Navarro, Frank Sinatra, Desi Arnaz, Rene Touzet, Stan Kenton, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Danny Kaye, Perez Prado, Charlie Barnet, Pete Rugolo, Betty Grable, Harry James, Judy Garland, Patti Page, Jane Powell, Ray Anthony, Martin & Lewis, Frances Faye, Dinah Shore, Xavier Cugat, Tony Curtis and Eddie Fisher.
Some excerpts from an excellent article on Costanzo by George Varga that appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune:
“I had to learn on my own, which is good, because I developed my own style. It seemed like it came natural. I listened to a lot of music. (Noted Spanish bandleader) Xavier Cugat was big. And, many years later, he hired me.”
“(An) aneurysm did not keep the tireless “Mr. Bongo” from headlining concerts periodically until as recently as late 2015. Nor did it deter him from practicing his drumming at home, nearly every day, until just a few weeks ago.
– Ken McCarthy
Jazz on the Tube
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One of the great shining episodes of American music history came to an abrupt end in 1993 when the Village Gate could not maintain in the ferocious Manhattan real estate market (such is the fate of so many creative venues in NYC.) .
When exactly it started is hard to say, but in the early 60s “Symphony Sid” Torin and Jack Hooke teamed up with Art D’Lugoff’s The Village Gate for a series called “Monday Nights at the Gate” that presented straight Latin music performances.
Then in 1965 the Tico All Stars made the scene at the Gate producing one of the greatest Latin jam sessions every recorded – and the rest, as they say, is history. With this crew, how could it fail? Israel Cachao Lopez, Ray Barretto, Johnny Pacheco, Cándido Camero, Joe Cuba, Jose “Cheo” Feliciano, and the Palmieri brothers (Charlie and Eddie.)
Finding good info about this important but little documented series has been tricky.
Then in a recent conversation with Bobby Sanabria I discovered the marvelous web archive work of artist and photoprapher Francisco Molina Reyes II.
“…Puerto Rican bomba xicá, yuba and plena are omnipresent. Dominican merengue, Venezuelan joropo, Brazilian bossa nova and samba, funk, New Orleans second line, Cuban bolero and son montuno are now included alongside the show’s original use of Mexican huapango, Cuban mambo, cha-cha-cha, jazz, swing, European waltz and orchestral music.
It represents in full force the rainbow that is our collective Latino and African American culture in New York.”
In 1985, on his second trip to Havana, Dizzy Gillespie was accompanied by a documentary film crew.
The resulting film “A Night in Havana: Dizzy Gillespie in Cuba” captures Dizzy’s spirit like few other films.
The film includes beautifully shot concert footage of his performance at Havana’s Fifth International Jazz Festival, his adventures touring Havana and his reflections on Afro-Cuban and Afro-American culture.
As everyone knows, Dizzy liked to kid around.
He was also deep and not afraid to speak his mind as the film shows.
Featured musicians include: Nasyry Abdul Al-Khabyyr, drums; Sayyid Abdul Al-Kabir, reeds; Walter Davis, Jr., piano; John G. Lee, bass; Danny ‘Big Black’ Rey, congas; Gonzalo Rubalcaba; piano, and Arturo Sandoval, trumpet.