St. Paul jazz musician Francisco "Kico" Rangel was talented, kind and always on time for a gig — which made him a favorite to have on call among touring artists.
Known as a pioneer of the Mexican jazz tradition in Minnesota's Latino community, people could count on Rangel and his family to play at weddings and parties as the population grew in St. Paul and beyond over more than six decades.
"I always think of him as an icon in the community because of his longevity and his connection with families," friend Richard Aguilar said.
Rangel, whose career spanned seven decades and several genres, died on July 17. He was 87.
Rangel's family was thought of as the first Latino musical family in Minnesota, Aguilar said. Born in St. Paul, he grew up on the West Side singing and dancing with his sisters, performing as a group called Las Hermanas Rangel.
As a teenager, Rangel began playing the saxophone, taking a few free lessons on a silver tenor from a local music shop and learning songs from his sisters and people in the neighborhood.
The family played at the State Fair and on the radio, making appearances and talking about Latino culture, Aguilar said.
"He always had the community in mind. He had a long history within the families of Latinos, where he would play for the mom and dad's wedding, and then for the sons' and daughters' weddings," Aguilar said.
He played all sorts of music, collaborating with other musicians to form jazz and rock bands or trios. But it was Mexican music — bolero, rumba and polka — that he played the most, Rangel said in a 2019 interview with the Minnesota History Center.
"I still get calls, I do a lot of Mexican folk music ... and then I do these dance clubs, we do a lot of ballroom type dancing," Rangel said in the interview.
Pianist Dawn Hill and Rangel were booked on a performance together for the first time in 1970. They went on to play hundreds of events together, and Hill, who does not speak Spanish, learned a lot about Mexican music from her friend. Sometimes she would forget the name of a song they were playing, but all it took was a look from Rangel to jog her memory, Hill said.
"He'd start playing and I'd hear it right away and jump in. When you play together for that long, you almost can read each other's minds," Hill said.
Rangel balanced his music career with a full-time job as supervisor of the microfilm department at the Minnesota Historical Society, where he worked for more than 40 years.
Frank Rangel remembers his father showing off on stage, playing two saxophones — a tenor and soprano — at the same time. But at home in St. Paul, Rangel was a family man who loved to host loved ones for cookouts and parties, he said.
"My dad was quiet when he was off the stage. But when he was on the stage, he was a totally different guy," Frank Rangel said.
During the holidays, he would invite musician friends over to the house for a meal and a present.
"He would buy a bunch of different gifts and he would keep them in the room, he would wrap them and whoever came over for Christmas they would always get a gift, unexpectedly," Frank said.
Rangel took the family on summer trips to Brainerd, Chicago or Duluth with the money he made from playing shows, daughter Cristela Schicke said.
"My mom used to say he speaks through his music. He was a totally different person on stage, but very kind and always giving to his friends," Schicke said.
Rangel is survived by children Peter Estrada, Kenneth Estrada, Lydia Mules, Laura Muñoz, Frank Rangel and Cristela Schicke as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Services have been held.