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 Orchestra.
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.