Chicago-born Jack Costanzo fell in love with Afro-Cuban rhythm instruments when he was 14. By the time of his passing last Saturday at age 98, he'd lived a life full of music, become a friend and teacher to Hollywood stars, and introduced a generation of Americans to bongos and conga drums.
Like vibraphonist Cal Tjader, Costanzo started out as a dancer. Jack was so moved by the Cuban sounds that were filtering into the US, he visited Havana several times to learn how to play conga drums and bongos.
Historical note: In the photo above, Costanzo is tuning the bongos by gently heating the drumheads from underneath, with a hot plate. That was the traditional way of stretching the calfskin or goat skin drumheads until they resonated to a certain tone. Synthetic drumhead materials and sophisticated tuning mechanisms were introduced around 1957.
Read the San Diego Union Tribunes' detailed obituary for "Mr. Bongo," and check out the short documentary below. Listen for Jack Costanzo's "Latin Fever" this week on Saturday Jazz Caliente!
Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.