I’m going to live until I die

Jack Costanzo and Anne Miller

Jack Costanzo (1919-2018)

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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 hometown of Chicago.

Costanzo probably did more to introduce the bongos to North American music than any other single artist. Here’s a partial list of artists he performed with.

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, Frank Sinatra, 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 naturally. 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 headling 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.

There’s a documentary in the works about him. Here are 20 minutes of it.


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