José Rizo, bandleader/songwriter; Justo Almario, tenor saxophone/flute; Danilo Lozano, flute/Musical Director; Dayren Santamaria, violin; Joey De Leon, congas; Joe Rotondi, piano; Ramon Banda, timbales; James Zavaleto, lead vocals; Alfredo Ortiz, vocals/guiro/bell/bongo; George Ortiz, timbales; Ross Schodek, bass.
José Rizo is a popular Los Angeles disc jockey, who writes in his liner notes:
“The making of this “Mariposas Canton” album has been a very long, two-year journey. It was extremely difficult with the devastating loss of our brother, Ramon Banda. This recording is dedicated to Ramon.”
This journalist also feels a deep loss and sadness for the departure of my friend, Ramon Banda, from this Earth. He was one of several musicians who answered my call and came into the studio to create spots for a “Suicide Prevention” project spearheaded by Martha LaCroix. On occasion, I was also blessed to have performed with Ramon Banda, a timbales master, percussionist and also an amazing trap drummer. Ramon played trap drums with my jazz trio and I also reviewed him playing drums with the great Joey Defrancesco. The photo below was taken at the studio of Nolan Shaheed.
Early in his career, José Rizo produced a public affairs show called, “La Voz De La Raza” and it aired Sunday mornings. That was from 1975 to 1976. He served as a program director for two years at the Santa Barbara commercial station, KIST AM. He was also popular for another radio show called, “Barrio Salsoul” that aired from 1976 to 1982 on the KCSB-FM radio station. As Rizo began to make contact with some of the iconic Latin artists, he would promote them at Cinco de Mayo concerts at the Storke Plaza in Santa Barbara. He used artists like Los Lobos, Tierra and Pete & Sheila Escovedo and Poncho Sanchez. The José Rizo reputation was growing. Next, he started interviewing artists on his radio shows. That was during his college days in Santa Barbara, California. Not only is José Rizo currently a disc jockey on the 24-hour Los Angeles jazz station (KKJZ), he is also a notable bandleader and songwriter. In 2011, he founded Mongorama, an ensemble inspired by conguero Mongo Santamaria’s early 1960s band. This is Mongorama’s third album release, under the direction of the group’s current musical director, flutist Danilo Lozano. Rizo credits his co-writer, Francisco Torres, a talented trombonist, as the group’s arranger. Rizo and Torres composed “Mariposas Canton” that translates to ‘butterflies sing inside my heart every time I see you.’ It features the smooth vocals of James Zavaleta and a tenor saxophone solo by the great Justo Almario. José Rizo and Torres also wrote a song to tribute Helen Borges, who was a DJ favorite around Los Angeles for decades. This composition is titled, “Helen of Jazz.” Before her death, Helen Borges had requested that Danilo Lozano play flute on this tune. José Rizo kept his promise to her and Danilo is fluid and impressive on his flute solo. One of the young lions of jazz is also featured on this cut; vocalist, Darynn Dean. Ms. Dean is the granddaughter of iconic drummer, Donald Dean and she is a blossoming force of nature.
On the Cal Tjader composition, “Mambo Mindoro” Dayren Santamaria offers listeners a magnificent and emotional violin solo and Joey De Leon’s congas perfectly push the rhythm and enhance the production. Track 4 is full of excitement and pizazz. Titled, “Fiesta De Charangueros” here is over seven minutes of joy. Santamaria’s violin dances and prances amidst De Leon’s congas and the bright timbales of George Ortiz. Joe Rotondi is ever-brilliant on piano and the composer, Danilo Lozano, takes a flute solo. Justo Almario is always pleasing and adds his tenor saxophone to the mix. This song will make you want to get up and dance! The addition of voices are like the fancy wheels on a hot rod. They keep the music rolling happily along with flash and style. Track 5, titled “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya” offers a laid-back arrangement with a beautiful melody. This is one of my favorites on this album of fine music. The horn parts are harmonic and sexy, once again featuring an outstanding tenor solo by Justo Almario. Joe Rotondi has an innovative and inspiring sound on piano throughout this album, and he’s given ample solo time on this Nicholas Martines composition. Ramon Banda is tasty on timbales. Banda adds his magic timbale touch on six of these twelve songs. I like the way the arranger plays with rhythms and changes tempos, giving Alfredo Ortiz time to shine on bongos. This tune sounds like a motion picture sound track. I was also impressed with Yoshigei Rizo. She displays her beautiful voice on “Como Fue” as the ensemble’s lead singer.
José Rizo, born April 27, 1956, worked for KCSB-FM (while a student at University of California, Santa Barbara) and KIST-AM before debuting his 30-year, hit, radio show “Jazz on the Latin Side” at the studios of KKJZ-FM on the Long Beach State University Campus. That was in 1990. Rizo has produced jazz and Latin music festivals around Southern California for some time. He co-founded the Saungu Record label with his wife, Leticia V. Rizo. In 2000, he put together the Jazz on the Latin Side All-Stars, a sixteen-piece star-studded Latin jazz band. They recorded four albums. In 2009, to the joy of salsa dancers, José Rizo established this Mongorama ensemble.
On this Mongorama album, the song, “Quiero Menudo” is a Mexican meal that is said to have the powers of curing a painful hangover after a heavy night of partying. As the title of Track 6, these energetic musicians present another composition by Rizo and Torres that moves and grooves. Another original composition by these two songwriters is “Descarga Ramon Banda” that tributes their fallen percussion master and friend. There are some songs by Mongo Santamaria included and the band covers the popular “Watermelon Man” song by Herbie Hancock. Young Darynn Dean once again shows off her scat vocals briefly, at the end of this song. Finally, the album closes with another original song, “East L.A. Meets NAPA”; Napa being a historic California city founded in 1847. It was a known jump-off point for folks on their way to the gold rush and is quite famous for its prestigious vineyards. Rizo has hosted wine tasting and jazz events at various Napa Valley wineries.
Two significant mentors influenced José Rizo’s blossoming disc jockey career. One was Chico Sesma, a pioneer Latin music DJ and the other was Chuck Niles, the singular jazz disc jockey honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. One thing I found that made Chuck Niles so loved and so important to our Southern California jazz community was his accessibility and support of local artists on his popular radio jazz show. That’s when KKJZ was KLON-FM radio. Chuck was always seen frequenting local jazz spots and he kept abreast of what was happening in our jazz community. I think José Rizo learned from that example.
José Rizo’s success, as a disc jockey, has led him down other exclusive and prestigious paths, like being invited to participate on the Grammy Award Committee and the Latin Grammy Award committee. The success of his radio show “Jazz on the Latin Side” allowed him to produce the KLON Latin-jazz Club Caravan and the Cinco de Mayo Latin-jazz Dance Concerts. He also founded the KJazz High School Jazz Festival. From 2007 to 2010, he was Program Director for KKJZ. José has become a part of the annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival, serving as Artistic Director alongside of jazz legends like Teddy Edwards and Buddy Collette. Rizo received the Jazz Journalists Association’s ‘A’ Team Award for his support of that Central Avenue Jazz Festival in 2007. Always striving to move Latin jazz musicians into a larger spotlight, José Rizo co-founded the Luckman Fine Arts Latin Jazz Concert series from 2000 – 2005. He’s also artistic producer of Councilman Gilbert Cedillo’s Latin jazz & Music Festival, normally held every August in highland Park, California. On top of all that, José manages to find time to compose Latin music, band-lead and produce all-star Latin music groups, while coordinating his DJ show and running his record company. I’d say that’s pretty impressive!