Jack Costanzo is known and responsible for the popularity of the bongos all over the world. He introduced bongos into American music when he was with the famous Stan Kenton Band, which shot him to jazz fame overnight. Jack recorded with Stan such favorites as The Peanut Vendor, Bongo Riff, Cuban Carnival and about fifty other recordings.
Most jazz aficionados know Jack Costanzo as the groundbreaking bongo player for the legendary Stan Kenton Band, which made three appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. Or maybe they learned his name when Nat King Cole took Costanzo into his fold, honoring him by changing the band’s name to “Nat King Cole and the Trio (featuring Jack Costanzo).” Or simply by virtue of having his own band, which has released excellent Latin jazz records, including this year’s Back from Havana.
Others may know Costanzo for his public persona, “Mr. Bongo.” Under that name, Costanzo has performed and acted in many movies, including Visitor to a Small Planet and The Delicate Delinquent (with Jerry Lewis), Danny Kaye’s Man from the Diners Club, Red Skelton’s Stool Pigeon Number 1, and Harem Scarum, alongside Elvis Presley.
However you know of him, Costanzo is a living legend, credited with introducing the bongos to American jazz in the 50s. He was raised in Chicago until the age of 15, beginning his entertainment career as a touring dancer with his late wife. “We did everything — jitterbug, ballroom dancing, rumba,” the 79-year-old says from his home in Lakeside. “Rumba was just becoming known in this country. When it became popular in the big cities, we toured nationally. That’s how I learned to do bongos.
a was just becoming known in this country. When it became popular in the big cities, we toured nationally. That’s how I learned to do bongos.