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Book Reviews

Juan Tizol – His Caravan Through American Life and Culture

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In the opening pages of his enlightening and informative book, Juan Tizol- His Caravan through Life and American Culture the author makes no bones about the fact that his purpose in writing the book is to set the record straight and “give credit where credit is due.”

Juan Tizol – His Caravan Through American Life and Culture (Xlibris, 2012)
By Basilio Serrano
Book Review by New York Co-Editor Tomas Peña

Basilio Serrano is a man on a mission. He is a seasoned educator and historian who is all too familiar with the plight of Puerto Ricans whose contributions to jazz have been ignored or lost to the sands of time. In 2000 Serrano wrote a series of articles on Juan Tizol’s cross-cultural collaborations with Duke Ellington, Harry James and other nationally known orchestras. In addition he has written articles about “Boricua Pioneers in Latin Jazz,” “Puerto Rican Musicians of the Harlem Renaissance” and essays on pianist Noro Morales, actress Miriam Colón and political activist Lolita Lebrón among others. In the opening pages of Juan Tizol- His Caravan through Life and American Culture the author makes it crystal clear that his purpose in writing the book is to set the record straight and give credit where credit is due.

During a recent Q&A with Serrano I asked him why he chose Juan Tizol as his primary subject. “I chose Tizol because when he arrived in the U.S from Puerto Rico he spoke no English and was not familiar with American culture. Tizol knew little of jazz, and he played an unusual instrument that was considered best for marching bands than orchestra ensembles. Many would say that Tizol had three strikes against him, if not four,” said Serrano, “yet despite the odds, he went on to have an extremely successful life in music.”

Juan Tizol hails from Vega Baja, Puerto Rico where he grew up in a musical environment. His first instrument was the violin however he switched to the valve trombone at an early age and it became his instrument of choice. In large part he received his musical training from his uncle, Manuel Tizol, who was the director of the municipal band and symphony in San Juan however he also gained experience playing local operas, ballets and dance bands. Ironically, Tizol came to the U.S. as a stowaway in 1920, aboard a ship that was traveling to Washington, D.C., where he set up residence and established himself at the Howard Theater and played for touring shows and silent movies. It was at the Howard Theater that Tizol met Duke Ellington.

Tizol is best known as a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra however he was also a consummate musician, sight reader, composer, arranger and transcriber. In addition, he was the first significant musician to use the valve trombone in a jazz setting, thus revolutionizing the instrument and adding a new dimension to Ellington’s sound. Tizol is also responsible for incorporating Latin influences into Ellington’s repertoire with compositions such as “Moonlight Fiesta”, “Jubilesta”, “Caravan” and “Perdido” among others. As a senior and highly respected member of the Ellington orchestra Tizol was also responsible for rehearsing and integrating new musicians into the band in Ellington’s absence. In his autobiography, Music is My Mistress (Da Capo Press, 1976) Ellington describes Tizol as “A tremendous asset to our band, a very big man, a very unselfish man and one of the finest musicians I’ve ever known.”

Tizol was also a racial trailblazer who paved the way for the future generation of Latin musicians. During his lifetime Tizol endured the indignity of being called a “blob of sour crème in a black bowl of caviar,” and forced to adhere to “color codes” by blackening his face for the films Black and Tan (1929) and Check and Double Check (1930s). The fact that Tizol made a conscious choice to work with primarily black jazz orchestra’s, married Rosebud Brown-Tizol, an African American and lived in a primarily African American community in Washington, DC during a time when racial inequities were the order of the day says a lot about Tizol’s determination and moral fiber. When the Duke Ellington Orchestra toured the South and restaurants refused to serve African American members of the band Tizol’s trademark response was, “If you don’t serve them, you don’t serve me because I am with them.” Ironically, his detractors accused him of “trying to pass for black.”

One of the most compelling sections in Serrano’s book is titled The Progenitor of Latin Jazz: Trombonist Extraordinaire. Prior to reading Serrano’s book I was of the opinion that Mario Bauza’s “Tanga” was the first Afro Cuban (Latin) jazz recording. According to Tizol, not necessarily so, “Tizol is often credited as a pioneer in Latin jazz. More often than not, however, credit is denied to the roles played by him and Duke Ellington in the development of the Latin jazz genre. For example, some consider “Tanga”, credited to the trumpeter Maria Bauza and Frank “Machito” Grillo and recorded in 1943, almost nine years after “Porto Rican Chaos” and eight years after “Caravan”, which many consider to be the first Latin jazz recording. Others suggest that the first Latin jazz genre recording was the 1947 “Manteca” by Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie. However, both “Tanga” and “Manteca” were recorded during the bebop era and almost eight and twelve years, respectively after Tizol’s 1935 “Porto Rican Chaos.” According to Serrano, Tizol is described as the “Progenitor of Latin jazz” because he experimented with Latin rhythms most often. I like to think of Tizol as an unsung founding father of Latin jazz.

During his long and illustrious career Tizol also worked extensively with Harry James, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Nelson Riddle, Louie Bellson, Billy Strayhorn, Woody Herman, Sy Zentner, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Durante, B.B. King, Rosemary Clooney, Billy Holiday, Ethel Waters, Ben Webster and Sarah Vaughan among others.

Serrano also devotes a chapter to Tizol’s contemporaries – Rafael Hernández, Rafael Escudero and Rafael Duchesne among others and an additional chapter to Juan Tizol’s known compositions.

As our conversation came to a close I asked Serrano if he was aware of the following excerpt from Ned Sublette’s book, “Cuba and Its Music – From the First Drums to the Mambo” (Chicago Review Press, 2004). “As soon as Puerto Ricans were Americans, they were helping transform its music. From 1917 on, there is no African American music in New York in which Puerto Ricans don’t figure. They have been a natural part of jazz in New York since before cats were taking improvised solos, and as the Latin Jazz hybrid developed, they provided critical links between the African American and Cuban styles, because they were the ones who understood them both; and made them their own, in their own way. The unique bicultural sophistication of the Puerto Rican is a deep topic – for another book – but it can’t be left unmentioned in talking about the development of music in New York.” “I’ve not seen this quote ever,” said Serrano, “It is timely and reminds me of a quote by the legendary Ray Santos when he described ‘Salsa,’ he simply said: ‘Salsa is our take on Cuban music.’ Sublette realizes that the Puerto Rican participation in jazz is important and unique. It resulted in a new hybrid. I agree with him.”

For more on Juan Tizol’s life and music I highly recommend “Juan Tizol – His Caravan through Life and American Culture.” Basilio Serrano is currently working on a follow-up to “Puerto Rican Musicians of the Harlem Renaissance.” Possible future projects include biographies on Puerto Rican pianists Noro Morales and Joe Loco.

Basilio Serrano holds a Ph.D in Educational Administration and Supervision, a Master of Science in Bilingual Education and a Bachelor Science in Elementary Education. He is currently a Professor of Teacher Education at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury. He has written for numerous publications, such as the Centro Journal for Puerto Rican Studies, Latin Beat Magazine, La Revista Puertorriqueña de Música and Great Lives from History: Latinos, among others.

A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject.

Book Reviews

Boricua Jazz: La Historia del Jazz Puertorriqueño

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Boricua Jazz - La Historia del Jazz Puertorriqueño - Wilbert Sostre

Desde Rafael Hernández a Miguel Zenón (Second Edition)

In November 2020, author, journalist, educator Wilbert Sostre Maldonado released the second (Spanish) edition of Boricua Jazz: La Historia del Jazz Puertorriqueño · Desde Rafael Hernández a Miguel Zenón (Boricua Jazz: The Story of Puerto Rican Jazz from Rafael Hernández to Miguel Zenón).

Maldonado was introduced to jazz and other genres when he studied music and guitar in high school. The seed for Boricua Jazz was planted in 2005, when he wrote reviews for a variety of publications, including Jazz Times, Jazz Inside Magazine, and Latin Jazz Network, and realized, apart from random biographies there were no publications that contained accurate, credible information about Puerto Rican artists.

Through the use of existing biographical data, interviews, requests for information, books, magazines, articles, websites, and active participation in Puerto Rico’s music scene Maldonado created the First Edition of Boricua Jazz in 2019.

The Second Edition contains updated biographies, discographies, and new photos. Also, it contains a comprehensive index (which the First Edition lacked) and information about artists and groups that participated in the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Festival (1991-2017), biographical data, and in most cases, a discography.

Chapter Breakdown

• CHAPTER 1 – Shines a light on jazz in New Orleans (the cradle of jazz), blues, ragtime, black military bands, and Billie Holliday, Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and Sidney Bechet, among others. The chapter also includes an excellent selection of early jazz recordings (1940-1960).
• CHAPTER 2 – Summarizes the musical forms developing in Puerto Rico during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Also, it documents the first encounters between American and Puerto Rican music.
• CHAPTERS 3 & 4 – They focus on Puerto Rican jazz and draws from Basilio Serrano’s groundbreaking book, Puerto Rican Pioneers in Jazz – 1900 -1939 – Bomba Beats to Latin Jazz (iUniverse, 2015), and other publications.
• CHAPTER 5 – Dedicated to the valve trombonist, composer, arranger, crack shot sight-reader, transcriber, and progenitor of Latin jazz, Juan Tizol.
• Chapter 6 – Documents the interactions between jazz and salsa. Also, it highlights the trajectories of Puerto Rican musicians who made significant contributions to jazz on the island and in the States.
• CHAPTER 7 – Pays tribute to the independent organizations (1960-1970) that exposed the island to jazz, such as the San Juan Jazz Workshop, the Don Pedro Jazz Workshop, and the Caribbean Workshop. The more prominent, international festivals such as the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest would not be possible without these organizations.
• CHAPTER 8 – Focuses on festivals, concerts, and jazz on the island.
• CHAPTER 9 – Proposes the emergence of Bomba Jazz (Afro-Puerto Rican Jazz), which is unique to the island.
• CHAPTER 10 – Brings readers to the present-day and features emerging jazz players who are giving continuity to the history of the Boricua Jazz Masters.

Throughout the book, Maldonado rightly credits the musicians, composers, arrangers, bandleaders, promoters, presenters, educators, universities, websites, radio show hosts, authors, historians, and journalists whose contributions to jazz were critical to its development and popularization on the island.

Boricua Jazz is a primer for readers who are curious about American jazz, Puerto Rican music and culture, and the relationship between the two. On a personal note, it’s an invaluable reference tool. According to Maldonado, an English Edition is in the works.

En Español

En Noviembre 2020, el autor, periodista y educador Wilbert Sostre Maldonado lanzó la segunda edición (en español) de Boricua Jazz: La Historia del Jazz Puertorriqueño · Desde Rafael Hernández a Miguel Zenón (Boricua Jazz: The Story of Puerto Rican Jazz from Rafael Hernández to Miguel Zenón).

Maldonado conoció el jazz y otros géneros cuando estudió música y guitarra en la escuela secundaria. La semilla de Boricua Jazz se plantó en 2005, cuando escribió críticas para una variedad de publicaciones, incluyendo Jazz Times, Jazz Inside Magazine y Latin Jazz Network. Para su sorpresa, se dió cuenta de que, aparte de biografías al azar, no había publicaciones que contuvieran información precisa y creíble sobre artistas puertorriqueños. Esto, a pesar de que los artistas puertorriqueños, hombres y mujeres, se “escondían” a plena vista.

Mediante el uso de datos biográficos existentes, entrevistas, solicitudes de información, libros, revistas, artículos, sitios web y participación activa en la escena musical de Puerto Rico, Maldonado creó la Primera Edición de Boricua Jazz en 2019, una nutrida base de datos de 500 páginas y una valiosa herramienta de referencia.

La segunda edición contiene biografías y discografías actualizadas y fotos nuevas. Además, información detallada sobre artistas fallecidos. También contiene un índice completo (del que carecía la Primera Edición) e información sobre artistas y grupos que participaron en el Festival de Jazz de Puerto Rico Heineken (1991-2017). Boricua Jazz también contiene datos biográficos y, en la mayoría de los casos, una discografía.

Desglose por Capítulo

• CAPÍTULO 1 – arroja luz sobre el jazz en Nueva Orleans (la cuna del jazz), el blues, el ragtime, las bandas militares negras y Billie Holliday, Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong y Sidney Bechet, entre otros. El capítulo también incluye una excelente selección de primeras grabaciones de jazz (1940-1960).
• CAPÍTULO 2 – Resume las formas musicales que se desarrollaron en Puerto Rico durante el siglo XIX y principios del siglo XX. Además, documenta los primeros encuentros entre la música estadounidense y puertorriqueña.
• CAPÍTULOS 3 y 4 – Se centran en el jazz puertorriqueño y se basan en el innovador libro de Basilio Serrano, Pioneros puertorriqueños en el jazz – 1900-1939 – Bomba Beats to Latin Jazz (iUniverse, 2015), y otras publicaciones.
• CAPÍTULO 5 – Dedicado al trombonista de válvulas, compositor, arreglista, visionario, transcriptor y progenitor del jazz latino, Juan Tizol.
• Capítulo 6 – Documenta las interacciones entre el jazz y la salsa. Asimismo, destaca las trayectorias de músicos puertorriqueños que hicieron importantes aportes al jazz en la isla y en Estados Unidos.
• CAPÍTULO 7 – Rinde homenaje a las organizaciones independientes (1960-1970) que expusieron a la isla al jazz, como el San Juan Jazz Workshop, el Don Pedro Jazz Workshop y el Caribbean Workshop. Los festivales internacionales más destacados como el Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest no serían posibles sin estas organizaciones.
• CAPÍTULO 8 – Se centra en festivales, conciertos y jazz en la isla.
• CAPÍTULO 9 – Propone el surgimiento del Bomba Jazz (Jazz Afropuertorriqueño), único en la isla.
• CAPÍTULO 10 – Lleva a los lectores a la actualidad y presenta a jazzistas emergentes que están dando continuidad a la historia de los Boricua Jazz Masters.

A lo largo del libro, Maldonado acredita con razón a los músicos, compositores, arreglistas, directores de orquesta, promotores, presentadores, educadores, universidades, sitios web, presentadores de programas de radio, autores, historiadores y periodistas cuyas contribuciones al jazz fueron fundamentales para su desarrollo y popularización en la isla. Additionally, Maldonado deserves credit for being up to the task in this dedicated investigative endeavor.

Boricua Jazz es un manual para lectores curiosos por el jazz, la música y la cultura puertorriqueña. En una nota personal, es una herramienta de referencia invaluable a la que me refiero a menudo. Según el autor, se está preparando una edición en inglés.

About the Author

Wilbert Sostre Maldonado is a freelance contributing writer, creator of Jazzin’ magazine and the author of the book Boricua Jazz: Desde Rafael Hernández a Miguel Zenón, La Historia del Jazz Puertorriqueño. Also, he is the host and producer of Puerto Rico Jazz @ Radio Vieques, Brave New Radio, William Paterson University & Radio Procer, 1380am, 98.5FM Barranquitas, Puerto Rico. His writings appear on Latin Jazz Network, Vid 90 magazine, All About Jazz, Jazz Inside Magazine, Jazztimes, and other publications.

Author, journalist, educator Wilbert Sostre Maldonado

Reference

• Lapidus, Ben – New York and the International Sound of Latin Music – 1940-1990 (University Press of Mississippi-Jackson, 2021)
• Maldonado, William Sostre – Boricua Jazz, La Historia del Jazz Puertorriqueño (First Edition)
• Serrano, Basilio – Juan Tizol, His Caravan Through Life and American Culture (Xlibris)
• Serrano, Basilio – Puerto Rican Pioneers in Jazz, 1900-1939 – Bomba Beats to Latin Jazz (iUniverse)
• Sublette, Ned – Cuba and its Music, From the First Drums to the Mambo (Chicago Review Press)

© 2021 Tomas Peña – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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