His most famous composition is undoubtedly Caravan, which was first recorded in 1936 by a small group, Barney Bigard & His Jazzopators, and then in early 1937 by the full Ellington orchestra.
Tizol was a very skilled player of the valve trombone with brilliant technique and a beautiful tone. On his instrument he could play passages that were more or less impossible to do on a slide trombone, and for this reason he was often used by Ellington to play with the sax section. His warm sound can be compared with that of Tommy Dorsey and is easily recognized, whether played in the Ellington orchestra or with others. He first joined the Ellington orchestra in 1929 and stayed until 1944 when he joined Harry James via a short stint with Woody Herman. In 1951 he was back with Ellington again for a two year tenure, again finding his way back to Harry James. In 1960-61 he played with Ellington temporarily. He became a very important member of the Ellington organization helping Duke with the extraction of scores and copying notes for the band members. Undoubtedly, this must have spurred his talants for arranging and writing his own material. His compositions, which in sheer numbers cannot compete with Duke and Strayhorn, are relatively numerous, and include ballads, swingers and more exotic tunes in the latin and oriental vein. Members can go to the Goodies Room and listen to some of Tizol’s finest compositions. We begin chronologically with his first recorded tune with Duke Ellington’, Moonlight Fiesta (AKA Porto Rican Chaos), a recording from 1935 with a latin touch and with Tizol is the main soloist. Incidentally, Caravan as could be played above, is from Dec. 19, 1936 and comes from the rarer of the two existing takes.Tizol wrote a beautiful ballad, called Have A Heart, for one of the Ellington small groups. This was recorded in 1938 by the full orchestra as Lost In Meditation, where Tizol plays the melody in a wonderful way. The same year another fine ballad, A Gypsey Without A Song, was recorded, also with Tizol playing in his typical style. Bakiff is yet another exotic creation från 1938. A small group led by Cootie Williams plays a low key swinger, Night Song, which is said to be a result of a co-operaton between Tizol and Jimmy Mundy. After leaving Duke Ellington in 1944, Tizol played a leading role in Harry James’ orchestra and also made some recordings under his own name with some members of the James’ orchestra, such as Willie Smith and Arnold Ross, participating.
Tizol with Willie Smith and unknown
Willie Smith (one of Tizol’s best friends) sings and plays You Can’t Have The Cake And Eat It and Tizol states the theme in Zanzibar which are both from the early period with Harry James in 1944. The former number is a swinger with a likeness to Johnny Hodges’ group in the early fifties, whereas Zanzibar could be described as exotic-oriental in style. When Tizol was back in the Ellington organization again in 1951, a recording of Vagabonds (AKA Quidado) was made. This is a hard swinging tune with a boppish flavor and with Clark Terry in the main solo role. We then end our little concert with a mighty performance of Keblah by the Harry James orchestra from the late fifties or early sixties, with Tizol and James in the leading roles. This, in my view, is one of Tizol’s best compositions, never recorded by Duke Ellington’s orchestra, but several times by Harry James and Tizol himself.
For those who want to know more about Juan Tizol, Basilio Serrano’s book ”JUAN TIZOL-His Caravan Through American Life And Culture” is recommended.. Kurt Dietrich’s book ”Duke’s Bones” covers Tizol’s work within the Ellington organization.