Juan Tizol came to the United States in 1920 from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to play in the pit band at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. where he met Duke Ellington. Tizol had studied both valve and slide trombone with his uncle and was a master of both. Most players preferred the slide because of its sound and greater tonal accuracy. But the valve trombone offered greater fluidity and was favored by Tizol. He joined Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1929 and became the soul of its ensemble section over the next 15 years. He frequently rehearsed the band for Duke, who wrote arrangements that took advantage of Tizol’s mastery of his instrument, pairing him with saxes and trumpets.
Two of Tizol’s compositions, written while with Ellington, became jazz standards: “Caravan” (1937) and “Perdido” (1942). While Billy Eckstine had the first vocal hit of “Caravan” in 1946, the tune is a favorite of drummers for its rhythmic possibilities. “Perdido” has been more successful as a vehicle for vocalists. Tizol’s penchant for exotic themes seemed to inspire Ellington who performed Tizol’s other works but without the same success.
In 1944 Tizol joined the commercially successful Harry James band where he remained for seven years. He returned to Duke’s band in 1951 for the first of two short stints, the last in 1960. Tired of traveling, he settled in Los Angeles in 1953 where he found studio work with, among others, Nelson Riddle who was recording then with Sinatra.
-- Sandra Burlingame