JUST CULTURE DEPT.
Who in The World
Was Juan Tizol? Juan Tizol, The
Puerto Rican Trombonist
that Made up Duke Ellington's
of my favorites jazz tunes of all times is "Caravan" but I never knew that the
composer was a Puerto Rican.
Juan Tizol was born in San Juan Puerto Rico on Jan. 22, 1900, started music
lessons early, was trained as a valve trombonist and as a teenager played in the
San Juan Municipal Band. Tizol moved to the U.S. in 1920 and became valve
trombonist in the pit band of the Howard Theatre in Washington DC, was a member
of the Marie Lucas Orchestra, Bobby Lee’s Cottonpickers, and the White Brothers
Band. His big break came in August of 1929 when he joined the Duke Ellington
He would remain with Duke for fifteen years, and became an integral part of the
bands sound. His contribution to the Duke legacy would be in his two
compositions “Caravan”, and “Perdido”. Though he did compose many other pieces
for the orchestra, these are his best known. “Caravan” was always the second
number in Duke’s live performances, and was permanently in the book. Duke would
write specific passages for his valve trombone, in that he could cover a broader
range than on a slide. Not known for his soloing in a band with an all star
lineup of soloist, he nevertheless was adept and reliable. Due to his
punctuality at rehearsals, he was designated by Duke to take these over on many
occasions, and Duke always mentioned him with high respect.
Juan Tizol left the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1944, and moved to California.
There he soon joined up with the Harry James Orchestra, then based out of Los
Angeles, and remained with him for seven years. He was convinced to rejoin
Duke’s outfit in 1951, he stayed for two years and then decided to retire from
the rigors of touring. He stayed in Los Angeles, and dedicated himself to studio
work, and played with Nelson Riddle and Frank Sinatra in very lucrative gigs. He
teamed up with Duke again in the mid ‘60’s for select sessions, but soon after
retired and settled in California.
Juan Tizol was regarded by many as a perfect ensemble player, one whose role was
to ensure the overall sound of the band. His stint with the Duke Ellington
Orchestra has solidified his reputation in the big band era. The song “Caravan”
has hence become a jazz standard and has been covered repeatedly. In Puerto Rico
he is in the top echelon of historic musicians, and there have been many musical
tributes for him as recently as 2007.
Juan Tizol died quietly at his home in Inglewood California, on Apr. 23,1984.