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Concert pianist, composer, arranger, conductor, pedagogue – Marco Rizo fondly remembers leading a dual life in the early 1950’s. At night he studied hard to obtain a master’s degree in music, while during the day he worked as a pianist, arranger and composer for the “ I Love Lucy” television series.
Born in Santiago de Cuba, Mr. Rizo’s first music teacher was his father, Sebastian Rizo, flutist with the Santiago Symphony Orchestra. His mother, Maria Ayala, was his inspiration. Later, he studied harmony and composition with Spanish composer Pedro San Juan and was an honor student at the Havana School of Music. By 1938 he had become the official pianist of the Havana Philharmonic, performing under the direction of Maestros Ernesto Lecuona, Erich Kleiber and Leopold Stokowski as well as giving duo piano recitals with Lecuona (that is why today many say Mr. Rizo’s sensitive piano style reminds them of Lecuona). In 1940 he immigrated to the United States, continuing his studies at Juilliard under Mme Rosina Lhevinne. He performed and orchestrated with the 2nd Army Military Band during World War II. After the war Mr. Desi Arnaz, whom Mr. Rizo had known since childhood invited him to join his orchestra as a pianist and orchestrator for the “I Love Lucy Show” which ran from 1951 to 1957. Making his home in Los Angeles, Mr. Rizo became the pianist-arranger for the “Bob Hope Radio Show” and organized his own group. Since then he has arranged for hundreds of top artists, among them: Carmen Miranda, Danny Kaye, Xavier Cugat, Yma Sumac and Paquito D’Rivera. He scored music for Columbia, Paramount and MGM Studios. During that time Mr. Rizo attended U.C.L.A., studying under Igor Stravinsky and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
Mr. Rizo was awarded the Silver Medal of the French Academy of Arts, Science and Letters for outstanding achievements in the field of Latin Music. As a pianist, he recorded some 30 albums. He had a light, sure touch, and his playing combined classical technique with the syncopation of the Afro-Cuban tradition and the swing of Jazz.
His own piano and orchestral compositions include “Suite Campesina”, “Ñáñigo”, “Danzas Cubanas”, “José Martí- Sinfonía Cubana”, “Broadway Concerto”, “Suite of the Americas”, “Suite Española”, “Visions of New York”.
For the past 20 years he devoted much of his time to the non-profit organization “The Marco Rizo Latin American Music Project” (AKA SAMPI), which he founded, spreading appreciation for Latin music and culture to students in universities, colleges, high schools, and public schools. His most recent CD, “Habaneras” traces the history of Cuban classical piano music.
Mr. Rizo passed away on September 8th of 1998 in Manhattan.