San Francisco (California), USA – The Rough Guide series focuses on one of the masters of Latin music in the US, Tito
Puente. The Rough Guide To Tito Puente was compiled by Latin music author and specialist Sue Steward.
Over an astonishingly varied career, Tito Puente earned scores of awards including a number of Grammys. This album showcases his incredible musical diversity with mambo, pachanga, bugalú (boogaloo), salsa and Latin jazz styles. Tito Puente’s remarkable solos on vibes and timbales are accompanied by some of his favorite singers, including Santos Colón, Celia Cruz and the wild La Lupe,
whose performances were explosions of vocal passion. A Puerto Rican-New Yorker, whose musical soul always lay in Cuba as well as Puerto Rico, the King of Latin music, Ernesto ‘Tito’ Puente was born in New York, in 1923. After serving as a marine in World War II, he was granted a scholarship to the Juilliard Institute, where he studied percussion, saxophone and piano.
After founding his first band – The Picadilly Boys soon to be renamed the Tito Puente Orchestra – in 1948, Puente found his niche and quickly made his name at the newly opened Palladium Ballroom. He originally rode into the spotlight on the new mambos that had been brought over from Havana and his massively influential best selling album, Mamborama (1959), introduced a new angle on the mambo. Vibes had come into vogue in New York via West Coast ‘cool jazz’ and on ‘Mambo Típico’, Puente’s sparkling vibraphone is the lead voice. Mamborama also introduced the sublime voice of Santos Colón who would be his regular vocalist for the next twenty years.
The brash mambo era slid inevitably into the sweeter and more romantic 1960s. Cha-cha-cha’s arrived from Cuba and were played by a style of band called charanga. ‘Piano Pachanga’ from Pachanga Con Puente (1961) capitalized on the short-lived New York pachanga craze derived from the cha-cha-chá, and on this song the pachanga’s regular, thumping rhythm is spelled out in Puente’s vibes.
For charanga proper, a solo wooden flute and rocking violins are essential, and Puente’s album
El Rey Bravo shows him directing his new sound on ‘Malanga Con Yucca’.
The zenith of his version of charanga is ‘Oye Como Va’ – the legendary song that Carlos Santana turned into a world hit when he performed it at Woodstock in the late 1960s. The original version, included here, is Puente’s signature tune and it has all the charanga elements plus a barrage of softly singing saxophones.
‘Penjamo’, taken from Tito Puente Swings & Vicentico Valdes Swings (1963), features the deliciously sibilant voice of Puente’s favorite vocalist, the dazzling young Cuban, Valdés. A year later, in 1964, Mucho Puente included the minimalist ‘Mas Bajo’, which includes a cantering bass line fronting a procession of brass and interruptions of hard, rhythmic handclaps that signified the arrival of boogaloo.
Released in 1968,
El Rey included a master class in Afro-Cuban percussion on ‘Fiesta Con Puente’ and another piece of booqaloo fun in ‘TP’s Shing-A-Ling’.
Puente began working with Celia Cruz in 1968, and the following year’s collaboration, Quimbo Quimbumbia, was a sensation that launched a string of hits onto the burgeoning salsa market. Here ‘En El Cafetal’ reveals Celia’s fresh and youthful voice with its energy and unrivalled rhythm.
At the same time as his successful partnership with Celia Cruz, he also hooked up with another Cuban leading lady – the wild genius La Lupe. In their tribute album to Puerto Rico’s leading composer, Rafael Hernandez, La Lupe and Puente created ‘Jugando Mama, Jugando’.
The 1970s were a fast moving, fast changing era when Latin music and black American music were engaged in explosive evolution. Puente’s ‘Black Brothers‘ from Tito Puente & His Concert Orchestra (1972), is an unusual slice of Latino funk – a kind of blaxploitation soundtrack packed with snorting saxes and trombones.
One of the later songs included from Puente’s repertoire, ‘Pachito Eche’ was a 1985 hit with
Celia Cruz, and it is a moving reminder of the loss of two spectacular figureheads of Latin music. By the time he died, in 2000 aged 77, Tito
Puente‘s discography spanned nearly seven decades and he left behind over 100 albums.