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Space Age Music Maker

Jack Costanzo

  • Born 24 Sept 1922, Chicago, Illinois

Like Cal Tjader, Costanzo started as a dancer, touring as a team with his wife before World War 2. After his discharge from the Navy, he worked as a dance instructor at the Beverly Hills Hotel when Latin band leader Bobby Ramos heard him playing bongos in a jam session and gavie his a job. Through the end of the 1940s, Costanzo worked with a number of Latin bands, including a revived version of the Lecuona Cuban Boys, Desi Arnaz, and Rene Touzet.

Costanzo's first real fame came when he joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra in 1947. Ace Kenton arranger Pete Rugolo wrote "Bongo Riff" to showcase Costanzo's talents. Costanzo was a featured soloist on a number of other Kenton recordings from this period, including "Chorale for Brass, Piano, and Bongo," "Fugue for Rhythm Section," "Unison Riff," "Journey to Brazil," and "Harlem Holiday."

He left Kenton to work with Nat King Cole from 1949 to 1953, when he became a studio musician. Among the more noteworthy recordings he played on were Nat King Cole's last straight jazz recording, "After Midnight" (on which Juan Tizol also appears), and "Mucho Calor," an influential West Coast jazz collaboration featuring compositions by Bill Holman and Johnny Mandel and solo work by Art Pepper. During the bongo craze, Costanzo was hired by several different labels to record albums under his own name that spotlighted his bongo and conga work. Costanzo also acted occasionally, appearing in the television series "Staccato" and movies such as "Thrill in Brazil" and the Jerry Lewis version of Gore Vidal's "Visit to a Small Planet."


  • Mr. Bongo Plays in Hi-Fi, Tops 1564
  • Latin Fever, Liberty LRP-3093
  • Bongo Fever, Liberty LRP-3109
  • Afro Can Can, Liberty LRP-3137
  • Learn--Play Bongs, Liberty LRP-3177
  • Naked City, Liberty LST-7195
  • Cha Cha Cha, Clarity 804
  • Bongo Cha-Cha-Cha!, Golden Tone C 4061
  • Bongo Fever!, Sunset SUS-5134
  • Mr Bongo Has Brass, Zephyr 12003
  • Jack Costanzo and His Afro Cuban Band, GNP Crescendo GNP-19
  • Vivo Tirado, GNP Crescendo GNPS 2057
  • Mr. Bongo Afro Cuban Band, Palladium PLP 126

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