Don Tosti, a musician and composer who blended elements of jazz, boogie and blues to create the Latin "Pachuco" sound of the 1940s-era Zoot Suit culture, died yesterday (Aug. 2) at his home in Palm Sp
Don Tosti, a musician and composer who blended elements of jazz, boogie and blues to create the Latin "Pachuco" sound of the 1940s-era Zoot Suit culture, died yesterday (Aug. 2) at his home in Palm Springs, Calif. He was 81.
Tosti died five days after falling into a semi-coma, said his sister, Marylin Martinez Wood. Doctors had diagnosed Tosti with advanced prostate cancer in May and given him months to live, Wood said.
"It had completely ravaged his body ... But he went very quickly," Martinez Wood said. "He was really something special, a very talented man."
Tosti began playing music as a boy and forged a career spanning several decades and styles, from classical to jazz to rhythm and blues. But he's best remembered for his Pachuco-style compositions like the hit "Pachuco Boogie."
Recorded in 1948, it is regarded as the first million-selling Latin song.
The Pachuco sound, meanwhile, gave rhythm to an emerging Mexican-American youth culture inspired by the Zoot Suit scene.
"He was very influential," said Chris Strachwitz, president and owner of Arhoolie Productions, which released a compilation of Tosti's work in 2002.
Tosti was born Edmundo Martinez Tostado in El Paso, Texas, and by age 9 was playing violin for the El Paso Symphony Orchestra. He moved to Los Angeles a few years later, switched to the upright bass and began studying jazz. At 19, jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden offered him a job with his orchestra and Tosti hit the road, going on to play with some of the major swing band leaders of the post-World War II years, including Jimmy Dorsey, Charlie Barnett and Les Brown.
He eventually sought to concentrate more on writing and performing his own material and formed his own band, the Pachuco Boogie Boys.
In the 1960s, he moved to Palm Springs and became an orchestra leader at local hotels. In recent years, he spent his time teaching piano lessons out of his home. He was also a highly valued session musician.
Tosti's wife died several years ago. He had no children.
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