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Boricua Jazz Pioneer, Manuel Tizol

by Tomás Peña


Manuel Tizol Marquez (1876-1940) is a significant figure in Puerto Rican history. Among his many accomplishments, he founded the Concert Society of San Juan (1913), the Harmonic Club of San Juan (1923) and the first Symphony Orchestra (1926).

In the popular realm, Tizol led a dance orchestra, recorded for Columbia records (1910) and directed the Municipal Band of San Juan, which spawned instrumentalists such as Rafael Hernandez, the tubist and bass player Rafael Escudero and his nephew, the valve trombonist, composer Juan Tizol among others.

Tizol hails from a long and prestigious line of musicians. He was the son of Eusebio Tizol Burdonis and Saturnina Marquez Rosello. At four, his father introduced him to the violin, which led to an interest in the piano and other stringed instruments. In 1890, at 13 he composed a piece for a chamber quintet which was completed by his brothers, Eusebio, Gervasio, Facundo, and Jose Belen. Later, Tizol was in demand as a violinist, violist and double bassist with orchestras, opera companies and zarzuelas that visited and performed in Puerto Rico.

From 1900 to 1912 he directed the Band of the Charity College of San Juan and founded the Aguadilla Firefighters Band. Also, he presided over the Fine Arts Section of the Puerto Rican Athenaeum and created an octet that enlivened banquets, wedding receptions, and other social activities.

Tizol gave luster to Puerto Rico’s music scene by sponsoring functions featuring national artists in various cultural and social centers. Also, he mentored and sponsored young talent and led the presentations of internationally recognized performers.

As the founder of the Harmonic Club of San Juan Tizol, he led an orchestra that featured a dance repertoire and consisted of the piano, 5 violins, two cellos, a viola, double-bass, two flutes, and a clarinet.

From 1926 to 1928 Tizol conducted the Symphony Orchestra. Also, he was entrusted with the direction of the Insular Girls Home Band in the municipality of Cayey.

In his later years, Tizol directed the National Guard Band and various chamber ensembles. His children, Jose de Jesus, Gervasio, and Mateo, were excellent violinists. Of the three, Gervasio was recognized as the most talented (he died at a young age in Spain). Mateo excelled as a director and Juan Tizol is remembered as mostly remembered as a valuable member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra and a progenitor of Latin jazz.

Some historians and researchers speculate that Manuel Tizol was the connection between Lt. James Reese Europe and Puerto Rico. Europe visited the island in May 1917 to recruit soldiers, reed and brass players for the 369th Regiment, which distinguished itself in battle during WW I and introduced an early form of jazz to France. To date, no one has determined who the connection is, but Tizol was a contractor for orchestras formed in San Juan for visiting opera companies and at least one ballet group. Also, according to Donald Thompson and Martha Moreno de Schwartz, Tizol pre-selected potential musicians for Europe prior to his visit to the island.

© Tomás Peña. Published by permission in Centro Voices 20 February 2019.