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Jack Costanzo

Jack Costanzo
Jack Costanzo and Stan Kenton in 1947
Jack Costanzo and Marda in 1946 or 1947

San Diego’s early ’90s groove-jazz movement rediscovered Mr. Bongo, as Jack Costanzo is known, and he began to sit in with The Greyboy All-Stars and B-Side Players. With his 2001 release Back From Havana for CuBop, Ubiquity’s jazz-Latin subsidiary, the 78-year-old Costanzo is enjoying another chapter in his revival. A super percussionist, who introduced the bongo drums into American popular music in the 1940s and 1950s performing with Stan Kenton and Nat King Cole, Costanzo is a transcendent figure who helped fuel popular appreciation for Afro-Cuban music as part of a potent jazz-flavored mambo and cha-cha scene that flourished in post-WWII Los Angeles.

Age is a touchy subject with Costanzo, but the Encyclopedia of Jazz says he was born in Chicago on Sept. 24, 1922. His family was from Sicily and liked to dance; he became a dancer and taught at a local studio in his teens. It was at the dance studio that he first heard bongos, when a Puerto Rican orchestra played there. He made his first bongos out of wooden buttercups by cutting down the stakes and tacking bass drum heads cut to size.

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