Don Tosti

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The architect of the "Pachuco sound" so popular during the late '40s, Don Tosti was the godfather of Chicano R&B, creating the first-ever million-selling Latino record with "Pachuco Boogie." Born Edmundo…
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The architect of the "Pachuco sound" so popular during the late '40s, Don Tosti was the godfather of Chicano R&B, creating the first-ever million-selling Latino record with "Pachuco Boogie." Born Edmundo Martinez Tostado in El Paso, TX, in 1923, by the age of seven he was already playing as many instruments, and by the age of nine he was playing violin with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra. He moved to Los Angeles five years later, serving as concertmaster of the All National High School Symphony Orchestra; at 19, he adopted the the upright bass and began studying jazz under the tutelage of Arthur Pabst, taking the stage name Don Tosti -- a nickname dating back to his childhood -- when he realized his Latino ethnicity was costing him paying gigs, including a slot in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Concurrently he studied accounting at L.A. City College, sitting in with the school jazz band; one day he was spotted by jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden, who was on campus to record an armed forces radio session and invited Tosti to sit in with his band. Teagarden quickly extended an official job offer, and within days Tosti was playing with Teagarden's big band in New York City.

Over the next several years Tosti went on to play with Charlie Barnet, Les Brown, and Jimmy Dorsey, the latter serving as best man at his first wedding. He was one of just a handful of Mexican-American musicians who played professionally at the peak of the big-band era, and no doubt his frustrations at the marginalization of his heritage galvanized his decision to begin exploring Latino traditions in his music. On the advice of his father, himself an event promoter, Tosti began composing his own music and eventually formed his own band with pianist Eddie Cano, saxophonist Bob Hernandez, and drummer Raul Diaz, fusing jazz, boogie, and blues with Latin rhythms to create a style he called "Pachuco." Released in 1948 on the Discos Taxco label and credited to Cuarteto Don Ramon in honor of Tosti's father, the 78-rpm release "Pachuco Boogie" was an unprecedented success, its thumping piano and driving jump blues beat seamlessly melding with Tosti's frenetic Chicano rap, colorfully evoking the hipster chic of the growing zoot suit subculture.

A pair of superb follow-up sides -- "Wine-O Boogie" and "El Tirili" -- appeared on the Music Master label in 1949 and cemented Tosti's growing fame; soon he was headlining the Hollywood Palladium and hosting his own television show (KHJ-TV's Momentos Alegres). He was also a much sought-after sideman, most notably contributing to Pérez Prado's seminal LPs Voodoo Suite and Havana 3 A.M. Tosti himself eventually signed to Prado's label, RCA, re-recording his earlier hits in a more mainstream, mambo-influenced style that diluted the fervor of his earlier sessions, although he remained eminently capable of the occasional return to form, most notably with the rollicking "Chicano Boogie." In 1963 Tosti married model and actress Ruth Lila Margulies, settling in Palm Springs and essentially becoming a society musician, serving as orchestra leader at the local Biltmore Hotel and Canyon Hotel in addition to regularly playing piano at local events; he also owned and operated a booking agency, Music by Tosti, and taught voice, bass, piano, and guitar. Tosti died August 2, 2004, following a battle with prostate cancer; he was 81.