Tito Puente

"The King of Latin Music"

Hector Rosario
11 July 2000


"Tito Puente is to Latin music what Beethoven is to classical."

Whenever there’s another loss as great a talent as Tito Puente, a deep void is left that could never be replaced. We all mourn his death but at the same time, we celebrate his life. A life that brought happiness and joy to many for so long and will continue to do so throughout the ages.

When you listen to his music whether you are a Latin music aficionado or not, you will take notice of the tremendous force of energy that is taking you over and propelling you to move your body to the beat of the music. That my friends, is the magic of musical greatness. Loved and recognized the world over. There is not a continent on the planet that is not familiar with his music. Tito Puente is to Latin music what Beethoven is to classical. He took Latin music to another level. All young musicians who aspire to be great percussionist will need to study Puente. There are many musicians who came out of the Tito Puente orchestra and I’m sure many more will follow. Tito Puente was a renowned vibes player (xylophone) you can hear his mastery of this instrument in his earlier recordings of the fifties and sixties.

Puente has been the recipient of many awards during his illustrious career. It all started in the thirties with twenty-five cents piano lessons in Spanish Harlem in New York City. His love for percussion was apparent early on and he gravitated to them. He got his basic training from an Afro-Cuban drummer named Montecino who played with a band called "Los Happy Boys". His first big break came during WWII when Machito’s (Frank Grillo) drummer was drafted and Puente stepped in and the rest as they say is history. Puente by his own admission credits Machito who was his idol and mentor as the person whom by far had the most significant impact on his musical career. Many innovative band styles were created during this period that changed rhythm sections in Latin bands forever. The timbales were brought to the front of the bandstand and Puente played standing rather than sitting.

The famous Santana classics "Oye Como Va" and "Para Los Rumberos" were composed by Tito Puente. In 1999, he won his 5th Grammy for "Mambo Birdland" a throw back to the Mambo Era of the fifties when he was crowned the "King of Latin Music". Puente’s 1957 recording of Dancemania was hailed as one of the most influential of the 20th century by the New York Times. He has over 120 albums recorded to his credit. Puente has worked and/or recorded with just about everyone in the Latin and Jazz music world. His last recording "Masterpiece" found him collaborating for the very first time with piano virtuoso Eddie Palmieri. I have been informed by some very reliable sources that this album will become a collector’s edition. Furthermore, Puente plays vibes in a few tunes and I hear it is an absolutely phenomenal album. It is scheduled to be released July 18th, 2000.

Tito Puente is irreplaceable and will sorely be missed, however, we must be eternally grateful for the wonderful legacy of music he left us that enlightens our body and soul. Wherever he is I’m willing to bet he’s leaning towards one side with his elbow on top of the timbales sticks in hands ready to play with that warm and friendly smile that lets you know everything’s okay and get ready to swing.

Other Latin Musings

BOBBY CALDWELL at CD 101.9 Smooth Cruise

"To be quite honest, I never thought anyone could actually come close to duplicating the great Bobby Darin on this song. However, he sang it so well in fact, I got the feeling that Bobby Darin was smiling down from heaven."

One would have thought that with all the inclement weather we had Tuesday June 6, 2000, that this would have put a damper on the first CD101.9 smooth cruise of the new millennium. I was wrong; the turn out for Bobby Caldwell was (SRO) standing room only. The Bobby Caldwell big band came out swinging, Bobby looking dapper in his clean-cut double-breasted suit. He’s transformed himself into a big name Las Vegas act, which didn’t look anything as I had seen on his earlier CD covers. To tell you that he had the Frank Sinatra persona with him is an understatement. He had just finished an 8 months concert series in one of the big hotels in Vegas doing none other than the rat pack show. That said, this was a big production with a large orchestra and fantastic sounds, aboard the spirit of New York yacht. Bobby Caldwell was majestic his soulful and melodic vocal tones were incredibly soothing and at times extremely explosive. He started with a Vegas styled middle-of-the-road big band number. From there, he ventured into some more recognizable numbers like "Beyond the Sea". To be quite honest, I never thought anyone could actually come close to duplicating the great Bobby Darin on this song. However, he sang it so well in fact, I got the feeling that Bobby Darin was smiling down from heaven.

When Bobby’s most recognized hit of 22 years ago "What You Won’t do For Love" began, the audience erupted into thunderous applause to a tune that has as much appeal today as it did when it was first released. When you speak to someone who isn’t familiar with Bobby Caldwell, all one needs to do is mention this song, they almost immediately know this great song sang. He then performed "Tell it like it is," a song that became a number 1 hit twice. Sung by Aaron Neville, 30 years ago, it is the only song to hit number one ranking both times! I’m a huge fan of Mr. Neville however, Bobby’s rendition gives you Goosebumps all over because of the strength and vocal range, he takes this song to the next level.

His delivery and band leadership was superb considering most of the musicians are local talent and don’t travel around they were extremely tight. It was also nice to know that star musicians such as Bony James, Dave Coz and Richard Elliot all came out of the Bobby Caldwell orchestra, which is indicative of the immense talent that Bobby Caldwell has and draws. Thanks to Bobby Caldwell for a truly memorable evening and New York’s smooth jazz station CD101.9 for making it happen.

Paquito D’Rivera at New York’s Blue Note Jazz Club

"Paquito is one of the woodwind giants of our time, who dominates with his characteristic high energy, virtuosity, sensitivity and will."

May 23,2000 begin the first show of a weeklong engagement at the Blue Note for Paquito D’Rivera. This also marked the promotion for the first live recording CD under the Half Note label for Paquito which was recorded last year at the Blue Note and is available in stores now. The concert consisted of all the songs on the CD. The wonderful thing about Paquito’s music is that he takes you through a wondrous tour of Latin America through his instrument, with all the influence of each tropical region.

Because two of the members Diego Urcola, trumpet and Dario Eskenezi, piano, are from Argentina, a couple of the numbers were tangos very beautifully orchestrated and meshed with traditional jazz overtones. Paquitos composition of El Cura unmistakably takes you through the streets of Cuba with soulful conga beats that drenches you with an uncontrollable urge to want to push the tables to the side and find a partner to dance with.

There’s also the unforgettable Brazilian sound that’s been such a large influence in Paquitos musical journey. Paquito is such a charitable musical ambassador that he’s always giving an opportunity to many unknown musicians to expose their talents in places that otherwise would not be so readily available. Case in point was this evening he was showcasing a Venezuelan guitarist (who’s name I can’t remember), who was just phenomenal, with hand speed that were blurred to the vision. Furthermore, the conga player was also an unknown from the island of Puerto Rico.

However, the night belonged to Paquito with his masterful control of the alto sax as well as the clarinet. While he’s hitting all those incredible notes you can hear his classical, bebop, and Latin influences. This was another memorable show by the world-renowned reedman Paquito D’Rivera. I would like to quote Tom Jacbson writer for JazzTimes CD review who wrote "Paquito is one of the woodwind giants of our time, who dominates with his characteristic high energy, virtuosity, sensitivity and will." I couldn’t agree more. Don’t forget to visit the Blue Note live and on line at www.bluenote.net.