Portrait of Juan Tizol (Podcast #20-005)

Valve trombonist Juan Tizol (1900-84) was an important member of the Ellington band. Besides instrumental duties, he was a composer, arranger and copyist.

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“Juan Tizol was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and suitably named after the saint, San Juan. He studied and mastered every instrument in the orchestra, but finally settled down to specialize on the valve trombone. He came to Washington, D.C., about 1920 in Marie Lucas’ orchestra, and played the Howard Theatre and the T.O.B.A. circuit. When we decided to add a valve trombone, [Arthur] Whetsol took the responsibility of convincing him to join us at the Cotton Club in 1929. He was a tremendous asset to our band….”

– Duke Ellington, Music Is My Mistress


Juan Tizol


Charles Mingus played for a brief stint in the band of his hero Duke Ellington. Juan Tizol, Ellington’s longtime trombonist and sometime arranger, asked Mingus to play a certain solo, which the bass player decided to change slightly. The alteration so infuriated Tizol he threatened Mingus with his bolo knife. Mingus responded by attacking him during a performance. Here, according to Mingus in his Beneath the Underdog, is what the Duke said to him afterwards.

“Now Charles,” he says, looking amused, putting Cartier links into the cuffs of his beautiful hand-made shirt, “you could have forewarned me–you left me out of the act entirely! At least you could have let me cue in a few chords as you ran through that Nijinsky routine. I congratulate you on your performance, but why didn’t you and Juan inform me about the adagio you planned so that we could score it? I must say I never saw a large man so agile–I never saw anybody make such tremendous leaps! The gambado over the piano carrying your bass was colossal. When you exited after that I thought, ‘That man’s really afraid of Juan’s knife and at the speed he’s going he’s probably home in bed by now.’ But no, back you came through the same door with your bass still intact. For a moment I was hopeful you’d decided to sit down and play but instead you slashed Juan’s chair in two with a fire axe! Really, Charles, that’s destructive. Everybody knows Juan has a knife but nobody ever took it seriously–he likes to pull it out and show it to people, you understand. So I’m afraid, Charles–I’ve never fired anybody–you’ll have to quit my band. I don’t need any new problems. Juan’s an old problem, I can cope with that, but you seem to have a whole bag of new tricks. I must ask you to be kind enough to give me your notice, Mingus.”

From the blog “Billy and Dad’s Emporium”

Juan Tizol’s Oral Jazz History Interview can be found here

The recordings heard on this podcast episode:




small groups

Caravan (CD:”The Complete 1936-1940 Variety, Vocalion and Okeh Small Group Sessions” Mosaic Records #235)

Recorded 19 December, 1936 in Los Angeles

Cootie Williams – trumpet; Juan Tizol – valve trombone; Barney Bigard – clarinet; Harry Carney – baritone sax; Duke Ellington – piano; Billy Taylor – bass; Sonny Greer – drums.




Juibiliesta (CD: “The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia and Master Recordings of Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra” Mosaic Records #248)





Conga Brava/Moon Over Cuba (CD: “Highlights of the Great 1940-1942 Band” Avid, AMSC1143)


fabulousKeb-lah/The Sphinx/Zanzibar/You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It (CD: “The Fabulous Ellingtonians” Mercury 830 926-2)

Recorded 7 April 1946, Los Angeles

Dick Cathcart – trumpet; Juan Tizol – valve trombone; Willie Smith – alto sax, vocal; Babe Russin – tenor sax; Arnold Ross – piano; Irving Ashby – guitar; Ed Mihelich – bass; Nick Fatool – drums.

on the air

Bakiff  (LP: “The Duke is On the Air” Aircheck Records #4)

Recorded 30 July 1952 in Chicago

Willie Cook, Cat Anderson, Clark Terry – trumpet; Ray Nance – violin; Britt Woodman, Quentin Jackson, Juan Tizol – trombone; Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope, Hilton Jefferson, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney – reeds; Duke Ellington – piano; Wendell Marshall – bass; Louie Bellson – drums.


jazz after midnight


Caravan (CD: “The Complete After Midnight – The Complete Session” Capitol Jazz 7243 5 20087 2 8)


Nat “King” Cole – vocal, piano; Juan Tizol – valve trombone;

centennial editionPerdido (CD: “Duke Ellington, The Centennial Edition” RCA Victor ‎– 09026-63386-2)


maison du dukePyramid (CD: “The Great 1963 Paris Concert, Unissued Material” Maison du Duke MDD 009)


Cat Anderson, Ray Nance, Cootie Williams, Roy Burrowes – trumpet; Lawrence Brown, Buster Cooper, Chuck Connors – trombone; Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope; Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney – reeds; Duke Ellington – piano; Ernie Shepard – bass; Sam Woodyard – drums.


— Our closing music —-

0000120517It’s Something You Ought To Know (Paul Gonsalves – “Ellingtonia Moods and Blues,” RCA Victor / RCA63562)

Recorded 29 February 1960, New York City

Paul Gonsalves- tenor sax; Johnny Hodges – alto sax; Ray Nance – cornet; Mitchell “Booty” Wood – trombone; Jimmy Jones – piano; Al Hall – bass; Oliver Jackson – drums.