Heading into a Latin Jazz direction, this Cinco de Mayo (although we’re talking more Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican here, technically speaking). From a concert recorded live in Lugano Switzerland by RSI on July 3, 1993 during the Estival Jazz at Piazza Della Riforma in Lugano. An all-star lineup, to be sure: Tito Puente – timbales, percussion, vocals – Mongo Santamaria – bongo, percussion – Giovanni Hidalgo – congas, percussion – James Moody – saxophone, flute – Charlie Sepulveda – tromba – Dave Valentine – flute – Hilton Ruiz – piano – Andy Gonzales – electric bass and Ignacio Berroa – drums.
In case you don’t already know: Ernesto Antonio “Tito” Puente (April 20, 1923 – May 31, 2000) was an American musician, songwriter and record producer. The son of Ernest and Ercilia Puente, native Puerto Ricans living in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, Puente is often credited as “The Musical Pope”, “El Rey de los Timbales” (The King of the Timbales) and “The King of Latin Music”. He is best known for dance-oriented mambo and Latin jazz compositions that endured over a 50-year career. He and his music appear in many films such as The Mambo Kings and Fernando Trueba’s Calle 54. He guest-starred on several television shows, including Sesame Street and The Simpsons two-part episode “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”. His most famous song is “Oye Como Va”. During the 1950s, Puente was at the height of his popularity, and helped to bring Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds like mambo, son, and cha-cha-chá, to mainstream audiences. Puente was so successful playing popular Afro-Cuban rhythms that many people mistakenly identify him as Cuban. Dance Mania, possibly Puente’s most well known album, was released in 1958.
Among his most famous compositions are mambo “Oye como va” (1963), popularized by Latin rock musician Carlos Santana and later interpreted, among others, by Julio Iglesias, Irakere and Celia Cruz.
In early 2000, he appeared in the music documentary Calle 54. After a show in Puerto Rico on May 31, 2000, he suffered a massive heart attack and was flown to New York City for surgery to repair a heart valve, but complications developed and he died on May 31, 2000. He was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.
Tito Puente’s name is often mentioned in a television production called La Epoca, a film about the Palladium era in New York, Afro-Cuban music and rhythms, mambo and salsa as dances and music and much more. The film discusses many of Puente’s, as well as Arsenio Rodríguez’s, contributions, and features interviews with some of the musicians Puente recorded with Alfonso “El Panameno” Joseph.
Puente’s son Richard “Richie” Puente was the percussionist in the 1970s funk band Foxy. Puente’s youngest son, Tito Puente Jr., has continued his father’s legacy by presenting many of the same songs in his performances and recordings, while daughter Audrey Puente is a television meteorologist for WNYW and WWOR-TV in New York City.
This is one to crank up and dance to – it swings in all the best possible ways.