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Juan Tizol (22 January 1900 – 23 April 1984) was a Puerto Rican trombonist and composer.He was born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico near San Juan. Music was a large part of his life from an early age. His first instrument was the violin, but he soon switched to valve trombone, the instrument he would play throughout his career. His musical training came mostly from his uncle Manuel Tizol, who was the director of the municipal band and the symphony in San Juan. Throughout his youth, Juan played in his uncle’s band and also gained experience by playing in local operas, ballets and dance bands. In 1920, Juan joined a band that was traveling to the United States to work in Washington D.C. The group eventually made it to Washington (traveling as stowaways) and established residence at the Howard Theater where they played for touring shows and silent movies. At the Howard they also were hired to play in small jazz or dance groups. This is where Juan first came in contact with Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington.Tizol got the call to join the Ellington band in the summer of 1929. Arthur Whetsol, a trumpeter whom Juan played with in the White Brothers’ Band, apparently made the recommendation. Juan sat beside Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton in the two-man trombone section and became the fifth voice in the brass section of Ellington’s orchestra. This opened up new possibilities for Duke’s writing, as he now could write for trombones as a section instead of just having them play with the trumpets. Juan’s rich, warm tone also blended nicely with the saxophone section, so he was often scored carrying the lead melody with the saxes. Along with his distinctive sound, Juan was also known for being one of the best sight-readers and over all musicians in the band. He played with fierce accuracy and was considered to be the solid rock of the trombone section through the years. He was not a major improviser in the band, but he was often featured playing written out solos that displayed his masterful technique and agility on the horn.Juan made many contributions to the Ellington band throughout the 1930s and 40s. One of his major roles in the band was copying parts from Ellington’s scores. Tizol spent many hours and sometimes days extracting parts that needed to by written out for upcoming shows. Besides copying, Juan also was a composer for the band. His best known compositions, Caravan (1936) and Perdido (1941), are still played by many jazz musicians today. Tizol was also responsible for bringing Latin influences into the Ellington band with his compositions such as Moonlight Fiesta, Jubilesta, Conga Brava, and others.Juan left Ellington’s band in 1944 to play in the Harry James Orchestra. The main reason for this was to allow him to spend more time with his wife who lived in Los Angeles. In 1951, he returned to Ellington, along with James’s drummer and alto saxophonist, in what became known as ‘the James raid’. However, he returned to James’ band in 1953 and remained predominantly on the West Coast for the remainder of his career. In Los Angeles he played sporadically with Harry James, Nelson Riddle, and on the Nat “King” Cole television show. Juan returned very briefly to Ellington’s band in the early 60s, but eventually retired in Los Angeles. He died on April 23, 1984 in Inglewood California, two years after the death of his wife, Rosebud.
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and big band leader.Duke Ellington became one of the most influential artists in the history of recorded music, and is largely recognized as one of the greatest figures in the history of jazz, though his music stretched into various other genres, including blues, gospel, movie soundtracks, popular, and classical. His career spanned 50 years and included leading his orchestra, composing an inexhaustible songbook, scoring for movies, and world tours. Due to his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, and thanks to his refined public manner and extraordinary charisma, he is generally considered to have elevated the perception of jazz to an artistic level on par with that of classical music. His reputation increased after his death, and he received a special award citation from the Pulitzer Prize Board in 1999. Ellington called his music “American Music” rather than jazz, and liked to describe those who impressed him as “beyond category.” These included many of the musicians who were members of his orchestra, some of whom are considered among the best in jazz in their own right, but it was Ellington who melded them into one of the most well-known jazz orchestral units in the history of jazz. He often composed specifically for the style and skills of these individuals, such as “Jeep’s Blues” for Johnny Hodges, “Concerto for Cootie” for Cootie Williams, which later became “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me” with Bob Russell’s lyrics, and “The Mooche” for Tricky Sam Nanton and Bubber Miley. He also recorded songs written by his bandsmen, such as Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” and “Perdido” which brought the ‘Spanish Tinge’ to big-band jazz. Several members of the orchestra remained there for several decades. After 1941, he frequently collaborated with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn, whom he called his “writing and arranging companion.” Ellington recorded for many American record companies, and appeared in several films. Ellington led his band from 1923 until his death in 1974. His son Mercer Ellington, who had already been handling all administrative aspects of his father’s business for several decades, led the band until his own death from cancer in 1996. At that point, the band dissolved. Paul Ellington, Mercer’s youngest son and executor of the Duke Ellington estate, kept “The Duke Ellington Orchestra.” going from Mercer’s death onwards.