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Interview with “Mr. Bongo” – Jack Costanzo

July 6th, 2005
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Found a fascinating interview with the one and only “Mr. Bongo”, Jack Costanzo. From his own web site (which contains MP3 samples from his album Back from Havana):

Jack Costanzo is known and responsible for the popularity of the bongos all over the world. He introduced bongos into American music when he was with the famous Stan Kenton Band, which shot him to jazz fame overnight. Jack recorded with Stan such favorites as The Peanut Vendor, Bongo Riff, Cuban Carnival and about fifty other recordings.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

JV: How was Kenton to work with?

JC: Marvelous! He let you stretch out. “Play what you feel Jack,” he’d say. I remember the opening night at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa. It’s a little island he’d worked for years. It’s opening night, his return, and he’s going to show off his new band. So we start with Stardust and you know the tempo is real light and he gives Laurindo Almeida a guitar solo, then points to me. I looked at him like ‘what am I supposed to do with this tempo?’ So Shelly yells ‘pick up the tempo’ so I did these really fast runs and Kenton is yelling ‘that’s what I want!’ (laughter)

[…]

JV: Tell us about your jazz experience.

JC: I went through bebop and cubop. When I went to Birdland, which I did fairly often, I was playing with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Percy Heath, Curley Russell, and before he died, Fats Navarro. Playing with Lester Young was probably one of my favorite experiences. But I really didn’t play Latin and that’s why I was so well-liked by the musicians at Birdland because I could play jazz. I remember Bud Powell saying finally we have a conga drummer that can play jazz.

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