© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
In August, 2013, Jack Costanzo again chatted with writer Steven D. Harris, this time for a special feature story on living jazz nonagenarians, age 90+. Segments were originally published that year in JazzElite, a monthly subscription publication by Harris. The full Q&A interview appears below.
Steven D. Harris is the author of The Kenton Kronicles: A Biography of Modern America’s Man of Music, Stan Kenton. New and Used Hardcover and Paperback version are still available via online sellers such as Amazon, AbeBooks or at www.stan-kenton.com.
Just a word in passing, you may come across some technical glitches involving spacing, et al and we ask you to accommodate them as they are the result of formatting using two, different platforms.
© 2000, 2018 by STEVEN D. HARRIS
Jack, what was special for you about reaching the milestone age of 90 to become a “jazz nonagenarian?” I actually didn't enjoy turning 90––nobody likes to get old. The one thing good about it with me is that I look younger than my age ––and I appreciate that. Plus I still feel pretty good. I intend to live to 100.
Have you thought much about what you’d like to be doing for your big birthday centennial? The same thing I'm doing now: I wanna have sex, enjoy food, move around. All those things. My wife of 30 years keeps telling me I'm a young man, so that's all I need to hear. I don't look for gigs anymore and haven't in two years. I played with a few bands in Chicago, sitting in [while visiting relatives recently], which was nice, because I haven't been playing too much.
What's missing from today that you always thought would be here...and what would you say is better in the 21st century? What's missing now? Personally, stamina is one thing. I'd never thought I'd lose that. Naturally, recordings are much better with technology than years ago. But I miss the down-to-earth stuff we used to do on LP records. We fooled around with a lot of ad libbing, which they don't do much anymore. Take a band like Kenton's, which was 21 members in 1947, [captured] on one track. A single track for all those people, which could be loud. And it was hopeless, sometimes.
It was a tradition that when two big bands were in the same vicinity, if time permitted, you’d connect for a ball game. Kenton played against at least two in 1948: Les Brown & Tommy Dorsey. In a radio interview, Stan revealed how Dorsey's team was so strong it overpowered you. Yes…and we played terribly! I was the only one who was an athlete on the whole darn Kenton band. Shelly [Manne] had been a track star, but he wasn't a baseball player.
Did you save any of the instruments that you specifically played on the Kenton band? Yes, one of the conga drums. And a set of bongos, but not the first ones. The first set got ruined from the heat––it cracked the heads. I have some more conga drums that are going to NAMM [the National Association of Music Merchants which function as non-profit trade shows] in Carlsbad, CA. I've already made arrangements. I bought them in the 1970s. I have another set of bongos from the ‘50s.
Was there a particular place that you favored when buying or repairing instruments? In those days, I went to a famous bakery in New York called Simon's. [The owner] was already well known in the music industry when I first went to him in 1946 or '47. In the back room of this bakery, he had all these drums. We [drummers] all went and got our heads there. The instrument was originally made with mule skin. The family still may be in business doing it; I don't know.
We would be remiss not to cover a few percussion potentates who are some of your dear friends, namely Armando Peraza and Candido. Armando, I’m sorry to say, has terminal colon cancer. [Peraza died in April, 2014.] The most exciting conga drummer I've ever heard in his prime––and I've heard them all––was Candido; it's pronounced "Con–dido" when you place the accent right. He was the first person I ever saw who played two conga drums, which wasn't common then. He had been a bass player before that. [Note: Early on, Candido also played flute and the Tres, a three-string Cuban guitar.]
When did the two of you first meet? The first time I saw Candido was in 1946 at the Havana, Madrid, which was a famous New York nightclub. He was accompanying a dance team in a Cuban show. I remember the things he did for entertainment value, about the end of '50; he had a special light on the ceiling and turned off all the other lights. l also heard that he put phosphorescent paint on his fingernails. [Note: In 2013, Candido verified for the writer that this was inaccurate].
Jack, do you have any unrealized goals or dreams? No; I've had a good life. I'm the most well-known bongo player in the world; [like] in the fifties––and I'm satisfied with that. I was influential in a lot of things and I'm very pleased about that. Nobody played jazz [percussion] before me, not even within three years. No other bongo player was hired by Marlon Brando or Elvis Presley in movies. Tons of film soundtracks. I had a great career. The only thing that I missed out having was a hit record. I would have preferred that more than a Grammy award.
What is the status now when it comes to residuals? They're getting less. The amount is the same in quantity, but the money is very small. Frankly, I made more from radio airplay with my songs being played.
From knowing you through the years, Jack, I can see that your spiritual quest has made a huge impact in your life. Would you mind sharing on your faith? I always believed in God, even as a child. I'm very serious with God. You have to remember: I never drank, never did drugs or smoked. I was a Catholic until fifteen years ago. Before I became a serious Christian, I feared death with trembling thoughts…but nothing like [the peace] now. For the last fourteen years at our Baptist church here in El Cajon, CA, David Jeremiah has been pastor. He has the TV show called Turning Point, which is famous all over the world. It has had a very good effect on me. [END] © 2013, 2018 by STEVEN D. HARRIS.