Follow by Email

Friday, December 7, 2012



Commentary © James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved

The TV Guide entry for the September 24, 1956 Stars of Jazz program did not supply any details regarding Jack Costanzo’s group that would be appearing on the program backing Frances Faye.  Faye and Costanzo were a hot combination that would appear at Gene Norman’s Crescendo Club on the Sunset Strip.  Gene Norman would also record both of them for release on his G.N. P. label (Gene Norman Presents).

Bobby Troup hi-lighted Frances Faye’s recent work on Bethlehem Records ambitious recording of George Gershwin The Complete Porgy and Bess with Russ Garcia conducting The Bethlehem Orchestra, Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra, The Australian Jazz Quintet, The Pat Moran Quartet, The Stan Levy Group, with vocal work by Mel Torme, Frances Faye, Betty Roche, George Kirby, Johnny Hartman, Sallie Blair, Frank Rosolino, Loulie Jean Norman, Joe Derise, Bob Dorough, Betty Joyce, Tony Stevens, Ralph Carmichael, James Joyce, Ernest Newton, and Bev Kelly.

In the late 1950s, the cabaret scene on the Sunset Strip was so feverish, you could hear Christine Jorgensen and Frances Faye in different rooms on the same night without leaving the building. Jorgensen played the Interlude; Faye the Crescendo downstairs. Jorgensen’s set included “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” sung, apparently, without irony. A robust performer even on a bad day, Faye could be heard through the floorboards, violently slapping the piano keys and inquiring, “Gay, gay, gay, is there another way?”

Frances Faye was that rare thing, a white chick who could not only shout but swing. She had a dry, gruff voice she put in the service of a deadpan, declamatory style, nudging listeners to consider standards in a different way: stripped of obvious sentiment. Is Faye’s brash recording of “Am I Blue” the most knowing version on the books? People who thought Teddi King and Mildred Bailey and Felicia Sanders said it all have concluded “yes.”

Faye made more than a dozen albums, collaborating with the aristocrats of pop-jazz arrangers, Dave Cavanaugh, Marty Paich and Russ Garcia, and musicians like Maynard Ferguson and Herbie Mann. Faye was partial to a Latin beat, and Jack Costanzo, the great bongoist, often supplied it. If you own nothing of Faye’s, “Caught in the Act” is a good place to start. 

excerpt from:

Dubbed "Mr. Bongo" by the eminent jazz critic Leonard Feather, Chicago-born percussionist, composer and leader Jack Costanzo is credited with introducing the bongos into American popular music when he joined Stan Kenton’s band in 1947. From a Sicilian family, Costanzo began as a dancer and during his teens he taught in a local dance studio where he first heard bongos played by a Puerto Rican band. He made his own pair of bongos from a couple of buttercups and taught myself. After serving in the navy during World War II, he settled in Los Angeles in 1945. His first professional gig as a bongo player was with the Mexican bandleader Bobby Ramos in January 1946. He went on to work with the Lecuona Cuban Boys, Desi Arnaz and René Touzet. He toured with Stan Kenton from 1947-48. From 1949 to 1953 he played with the Nat King Cole Trio, with whom he had the hit "Calypso Blues" and co-wrote the blazing "Go Bongo" with Cole. Jack is featured in the Nat King Cole Trio anthologies Go Bongo! (Blue Moon, 1995) and Nat King Cole Trio – The Complete Capitol Transcription Sessions (Blue Note / EMI, 2005), and Nat King Cole – The Forgotten 1949 Carnegie Hall Concert (HEP Records, 2010). From there he worked with a who’s who of American showbiz, including Peggy Lee, Danny Kaye, Pérez Prado, Betty Grable, Harry James, Judy Garland, Jane Powell, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Dinah Shore, Xavier Cugat, Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis and Eddie Fisher. Many Hollywood stars studied bongos with him, including Curtis, Grable, Marlon Brando, Rita Moreno and Gary Cooper. He worked extensively in the Hollywood film industry as an actor and musician, including motion pictures with Danny Kaye (Man From the Diners’ Club, 1953), Jerry Lewis (The Delicate Delinquent, 1956, and Visit to a Small Planet, 1960), Red Skelton (Public Pigeon Number 1, 1957), Pat Boone (Bernadine, 1957) and The Satin Bug (1965). His last picture was Harem Scarum (1965) staring Elvis Presley.

Costanzo formed his own band in the 1950s that recorded and toured internationally. The first six tunes he recorded as a leader in December 1954 are compiled on Jack Costanzo Plays Jazz, Afro & Latin (Fresh Sound Records, 2005); the remainder of the anthology comprises 12 largely jazz-infected tracks made in the summer of 1956 featuring the incredible pianist Eddie Cano (1927-1988) and trumpeter Paul López (who clocked-up seven albums with Mr. Bongo) that were originally released under the title Mr. Bongo Has Brass by Zephyr Records. For his first album for Gene Norman’s GNP Crescendo label, Mr. Bongo Jack Costanzo And His Afro Cuban Band (1956) Jack deliberately emulated the trumpet conjunto format of Cuba’s La Sonora Matancera to achieve the album’s fat sound and tipped his hat to the group by covering their hit "Melao de Caña". Personnel included Cano and López, who wrote most of the arrangements. Cuban-born Kaskara (Manuel Ochoa) and Jack’s wife at the time, Ohio-born Marda Saxon, provided lead vocals. Jack went on to make second album for GNP in 1971, Viva Tirado, which he admitted, "was a turkey." Also with GNP, he sessioned on the René Touzet sets The Cha Cha and the Mambo (1955, a.k.a. The Charm of the Cha Cha Cha) and From Broadway to Havana (mid-’50s) and co-headlined with Cano and vibes player, singer and composer Tony Martínez on Dancing on the Sunset Strip (circa 1960) recorded live at Hollywood’s Crescendo club.

excerpt from:

SHOW #14

SEPTEMBER 24, 1956

Jack Costanzo and his Band: Paul Lopez, trumpet; Gerald Wiggins, piano; Bill Pitman, guitar; Tony Reyes, acoustic double bass; Edward Aparicio, drums; Jack Costanzo, bongos. Frances Faye, vocal.

Production credits for this show:
Host: Bobby Troup
Producer: Jimmie Baker
Writer: (not credited)
Director: Norman Abbott
Audio: Chuck Lewis
Cameramen: (not credited)
Technical Director: Bob Trachinger
Lighting Director: Vince Cilurzo
Video: (not credited)

The Howard Lucraft photo that greatly enhance this presentation have been provided courtesy of CTSIMAGES.  The author would like to extend a most heartfelt thanks to Cynthia Sesso, Licensing Administrator of the Howard Lucraft Collection.  Please note that these photos remain the property of the Howard Lucraft Collection and are used here with permission.  Any inquiries regarding their use, commercial or otherwise, should be directed to:  Cynthia Sesso at CTSIMAGES.

1 comment:

  1. fantastic detail, I am both impressed and appreciative of the research you shared here. Cheers, Tyler