Tosti's musical history is nothing short of amazing.
He's part of the pre-rock & roll generation of musicians
who played and composed music in two of the styles that evolved
into rock & roll, namely, swing and rhythm and blues.
He also excelled in Latin, classical, and jazz music.
Born Edmundo Martinez Tostado in El Paso, Texas in 1923, he
eventually had to change his name when he realized he was
having trouble getting work because of its ethnicity.
Don Tosti is what his teachers called him in school because
they couldn't or wouldn't pronounce his name. Don, a
courtesy title used before given names in Spanish, as in Don
Juan or Don Diego, and Tosti, short for Tostado. Don
spelled his name as it is in honor of a nineteenth century
Italian composer. Many Latino artists, such as; Ritchie Valens,
Vikki Carr, Andy Russell and Freddie Fender, also had to Anglicize
their names to further their careers.
Don was seven years old he was getting into various kinds
of trouble so he was forced to take music lessons by his grandfather
and aunts, who were raising him. Taking lessons and
practicing seven days a week, he was soon playing seven different
instruments. Even though he hated it at the time, the
discipline paid dividends as he was playing violin for the
El Paso Symphony Orchestra at the age of nine. After
five years with the symphony, he moved to Los Angeles to follow
a girl he loved. He lived with his mother and went to
high school in L.A., becoming concert master of the All National
High School Symphony Orchestra. In 1941, he switched
to upright bass because he was rejected by the Los Angeles
Philharmonic Orchestra, he believes due to racism. After
studying bass for a couple of years, Don was taking accounting
classes at L.A. City College when one day he went to watch
the school jazz band rehearse. Through a twist of fate,
the bass player was absent on the day that the great jazz
trombonist, Jack Teagarden was watching the students play.
Jack and his band were on campus recording an armed forces
radio broadcast. Someone told the instructor that Don
played bass and he was asked to sit in. Don was offered
a job and found himself at age 19 playing bass in the Jack
Teagarden Orchestra in New York City for $250 a week, a lot
of money in 1943. Don Tosti went on to play with Bobby
Sherwood, Charlie Barnett, Les Brown and Jimmy Dorsey, who
was best man at his wedding. According to Don's recollection,
he was one of only four Mexican-Americans to play in the big
bands in that era. In those years he played along side
the likes of Doc Severensen, Bud Shank, Art Pepper and Clark
Terry. He met jazz giants, such as; Charlie Parker,
Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis, and Latin
music legends; Machito, Tito Puente and Perez Prado.
late 40's, Don met his father for the first time, who was
a former naval officer, band leader and musical promoter.
His dad gave him some valuable advice, which led him into
the next phase of his musical life. The advice was to
become a composer and band leader. Don got into Latin
music, formed his own band and started to write and record.
He soon had a major hit with "Pachuco Boogie," which
was a Chicano rhythm and blues record. In his group was the
later to be famous, Eddie Cano. Throughout the 50's
Don Tosti had a popular Latin band and even had his own television
show. In 1961, he moved to Palm Springs, where he had
been playing during the seasons of 1958 and '59. Once
again, it was a woman who inspired the move. Ruthie became
his second wife. In the desert, Don became a society
musician, eventually switching over to piano.
Tosti has had a career in four distinct parts. He's
been a symphony, jazz, Latin and society musician. To
have been a professional symphony violinist at nine and a
big time, big band bass player at nineteen are a testament
to his hard work and great talent. Don Tosti teaches
voice, piano, bass and guitar and plays society jobs.
He still practices everyday. In '93, I took some voice
and piano lessons from him and found him to be one of the
most musically knowledgeable people I've known. Don's
philosophy is live, love, learn and leave a legacy.
Don Tosti has done all of this and more.
This article was based on
an audio taped interview of Don Tosti by Mark Guerrero on
July 2, 1999 in Palm Springs, California.
Arhoolie Records released a CD entitled, "Pachuco Boogie,"
which features the pachuco music of Don Tosti, with his groups,
the Pachuco Boogie Boys, the Don Tosti Trio, and Don Tosti
y su conjunto. Some of Don's recordings included are:
two versions of "Pachuco Boogie," "Guisa Gacha,"
"Wino-O-Boogie," and "El Tirili."
The CD also has three classic pachuco recordings by my dad,
Lalo Guerrero; "Los Chucos Suaves," "Chicas
Patas Boogie," and "Muy Sabroso Blues."
Other artists are also represented on the CD. You can
order this CD at www.arhoolie.com.
This CD, and hopefully others in the future, will help keep
Don Tosti's musical legacy alive and available to future generations
Don Tosti passed away August 2, 2004 at his home in Palm Springs,
California at the age of 81. Fortunately, just months
before he became ill, I hooked Don Tosti up with CEMA (California
Ethnic Multicultural Archives) at the University of California
at Santa Barbara. Don donated his archives (photos,
music, records, etc.) to the university, where they will be
preserved and be available for research for future generations.
My brother Dan and I had donated our father's (Lalo Guerrero)
archives to CEMA a few years before. To see Don Tosti's
webpage on the CEMA website click
here. Click on the following link to view a great
video of Don Tosti's life story. Once there, click on