Houston's music community is still reeling after bassist Rozzano Zamorano was found dead in his Montrose apartment late in the evening of Friday, February 21. Friends say Zamorano failed to show up for a gig with Vince Converse that night at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar, leading police officers to break down his door and discover him unconscious in his bed. Zamorano had just celebrated his 44th birthday the previous weekend at a gig with his band, the Fondue Monks, also at Dan Electro's.
"Rozz to not show up at a gig — that never happened," says Fondue Monks singer Denver Courtney, who had been Zamorano's bandmate since the group formed in 1991. "I've been onstage with Rozz when he had a 103-degree fever and was puking off the back of the stage."
After that birthday gig, Courtney says, he and Zamorano had lunch the following Monday, during which they talked about making another Fondue Monks record; it would have been the R&B/funk-rock band's first new release in a decade. But Courtney says that was the last time he saw Zamorano, whose death cuts straight to the quick of an old-growth ring of the Houston music scene.
After Courtney saw Zamorano, he says he thinks the bassist used Facebook once or twice the next day, and that was it. "Musicians can kind of disappear for a couple of days and nobody really pays attention," the singer notes, so no one thought to look for Zamorano until he missed a gig.
When that happened, Courtney says, Zamorano's father and brother Ronnie (the Fondue Monks' drummer) drove over to the bassist's apartment and saw his car in the parking lot, at which point they called police. Although an autopsy has not yet been peformed, friends say they think his death may be a result of Zamorano's severe sleep apnea, which was also exacerbated by his weight.
"He needed to have surgery, but he needed to lose a bunch of weight to have it," says Warehouse Live talent buyer Jason Price, who says he met Zamorano one open-mike night at Instant Karma in 1999. Price often booked Zamorano's projects as opening acts, such as his eponymous jazz-fusion trio before the Rebirth Brass Band at Warehouse Live, the night before the Dan Electro's birthday gig. The show wound up selling out on walk-up sales, Price says.
"When I called and told him, 'Your trio can play,' he was beside himself just because he knew it would be a good opportunity," Price recounts.
A mountain of a man whose size was matched by his gigantic talent on the bass guitar, Rozzano Zamorano was a native of Corpus Christi but attended Spring Branch Elementary School with Denver Courtney, years before they reconnected and started the Fondue Monks.
"The first time I ever met Rozz was on the playground, and he was challenging anybody to a footrace," says his future bandmate. "And to see Rozz back then, he was just this little-bitty guy, but he never backed down from anything."
Zamorano never had much formal music education, friends say, but by his early teens had met up with Houston's famous Zenteno family. According to Jason Price, he used to lie about his age to play gigs with the family band, as late vocalist Norma Zenteno (who passed away in February 2013) took Zamorano under her wing.
"The thing that gets me, by the time they found him, it was a day shy of a year that Norma had passed," Price says. "He was so close to her — he was broken last year. She was kind of a mentor to him growing up."
"Over the past year, when I was talking to him, he would say, 'You know, I miss Norma," adds Denver Courtney. "There was a real deep connection."
Zamorano's other big role model was Jaco Pastorious, the jazz-fusion bassist once as well known for his haughty attitude (and tragic end) as his prodigious talents. But Zamorano's similarities to the late Pastorious — he won at least two Houston Press Music Awards for Best Bassist, and was a perennial nominee — extended only as far as his confidence in his own abilities as a bassist, Courtney argues.
"He had an ego, but not a stuck-up ego," the singer says. "It was just when you know something that good and you play something that well, you're confident. And confidence is everything."
Jason Price is planning a memorial that will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. on March 15 at Warehouse Live, and Zamorano's trio gig at MKT bar this Thursday (March 6) has been turned into a benefit for the family. The bassist's father, Roland Zamorano, says he has received hundreds of messages from people from coast to coast, expressing their condolences.
"He was a very compassionate person," says the elder Zamorano. "He always put other people before himself, and he always mentored people. He always had a good word of encouragement for everyone. He didn't have that jealousy thing with other artists. He was a humble guy that let his art talk for him."