Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 20 April '23, Ernesto Antonio Puente Jr, NYC; d 31 May 2000) Bandleader, virtuoso timbales player, multi-instrumentalist including vibes, piano, sax, bongos, conga; composer, producer, showman. He was called Ernestito for his short stature, shortened to Tito; aka 'El Rey' ('The King') and TP. He intended to be a dancer, but tore an ankle tendon in accident; he served in WWII aboard USS Santee where he met bandleader Charlie Spivak, who taught him some big-band composition and arranging, then studied at Juilliard under the GI Bill. He worked in the orchestras of Noro Morales, Machito, José Curbelo, Pupi Campo and others (TP plays and arranges on Curbelo anthologies Rumba Gallega '94, Live At The China Doll '95 and Campo collection Rumbas And Mambos '91, all on Tumbao); he formed the Piccadilly Boys '48 which soon became the Tito Puente Orchestra. His initial lead vocalists were Angel Rosa and Paquito Sosa, then Vicentico Valdés '49-53, who left after a row about billing. Puente's record debut was on Gabriel Oller's SMC (Spanish Music Center); he signed with the new Tico label (formed '48 by George Goldner and Art 'Pancho' Raymond), released many 78s, eleven 10-inch LPs, some of these later recycled in the 12-inch format, i.e. Mamborama and Mambo With Me (collected with other tracks on Mamboscope and King Of The Cha-Cha Mambo '94-5 on Caney) and Puente In Love late '50s. With Machito and arch rival Tito Rodríguez, Puente was leader of the big-band mambo style late '40s and early '50s: 'Abaniquito' '49 (included on Mambo Macoco '92, which collects Tico recordings '49-51, as does Mambos With Puente '92, both on Tumbao) was one of the first crossover mambo hits with the help of English-language disc jockey Dick 'Ricardo' Sugar. His big band had 'an intense and nervous quality that was pure New York ... his arranging, like his timbales playing, was fast, tight, jumpy, bravura' (John Storm Roberts). During a cessation of recording by Tico (dispute between Goldner and Raymond) TP recorded for Seeco (eight tracks made c'49 reissued with tracks by Tito Rivera as Tito Puente And Friend on Tropical), RCA (15 tracks made '49-51 included classic 'Ran Kan Kan' '49 collected on Cuando Suenan Los Tambores '92 in RCA Tropical Series) and Verne. Puente was also prominent in mid-to-late-'50s cha cha chá craze, transcribing some original Cuban hits from the violin-and-flute charanga format to the brass and reeds frontline of his big band, such as Orquesta Aragón's '54 Cuban hit 'Pare Cochero' (on his mid-50s Tico LP Cha Cha Chá For Lovers). Puente In Percussion '55 on Tico featured just Puente's rhythm section including Willie Bobo, Mongo Santamaría, Carlos 'Patato' Valdez (reissued '96). Morris Levy, president of Roulette, induced TP to leave Tico for RCA '56: 'You took away my number one act, you really hurt my label,' accused Goldner on first meeting Levy (quoted by Frederic Dannen in Hit Men '90); some LPs reissued in RCA Tropical Series '91 onwards, e.g. Cuban Carnival '56 included 'Para Los Rumberos' (covered by Santana on their third LP '71, re-recorded by Puente as title track of new LP '72 on Tico), and perennial best-seller Dance Mania '58 (reissued as Dance Mania Vol. 1 '91) introducing lead singer Santos Colón (b 1 Nov. '22, Mayag]auu[ez, Puerto Rico, d 22 Feb. '98, PR; relocated to NYC '50, there worked with Jorge Lopés, Tony Novos and José Curbelo prior to TP). Other titles in RCA Tropical Series included Dance Mania Vol. 2 '92 (reissue of More Dance Mania '63, recorded '59); Top Percussion '58 ('92 reissue); The Best Of Tito Puente Vol. 1 '92; Tambó '60 ('92 reissue); Mucho Cha-Cha '59 ('93 reissue); Mucho Puente '57 ('93 reissue); Let's Cha-Cha With Puente '57 (reissued as Cubarama: Let's Cha Cha '94); The Best Of Dance Mania Plus Unreleased Out-Takes '94, Mambo Beat/The Progressive Side Of Tito Puente, Vol. 1 '94. Among those who played in the band '50s were Charlie Palmieri, Manny Oquendo (see Libre), Ray Barretto, Johnny Pacheco.

He made The Exciting Tito Puente Band In Hollywood '61 at Capitol (reissued as Puente Now! on GNP) as the '60-64 pachanga dance craze was getting under way; collaborated with pachanga hit-maker Rolando La Serie (whose version of Eduardo Davidson's 'La Pachanga' was a NYC chart-topper '60) on Pachanga In New York '61 on Gema. He returned to Tico '61 for Pachanga Con Puente; on that label until '85, over 40 LPs incl. classics Vaya Puente '61, descarga-oriented El Rey Bravo '62 with violinist/flautist Pupi Legarreta (including Puente's 'Oye Como Va', covered note-for-note by Santana on their biggest hit LP Abraxas '70). Tito Puente In Puerto Rico -- Recorded Live '63 was not a concert but had on-the-spot immediacy. He recorded for Roulette (which had taken over Tico) in a crossover vein: Bossa Nova By Puente '64 and My Fair Lady Goes Latin '64; De Mi Para Ti (From Me To You) '64 highlighted vocalist Santos Colón (Colón made solo LPs on Tico and Fania through '79, hits compilations Exitos De Santos Colón: Imagenes '70 on Tico incl. tracks with Puente, and Siempre Santitos '76 on Fania; also performed/ recorded with Tico All-Stars, Fania All Stars etc). Puente and band had won the Golden Cup first prize in Venezuelan carnivals '64-5; Carnaval en Harlem c'65 mixed Latin rhythms with pop/jazz standards like 'Bluesette', 'Jumpin' With Symphony Sid'; Y Parece Bobo c'65 on Alegre with lead singer Chivirico Dávila was produced by the label's founder Al Santiago. 20th Anniversary c'67 was a celebration; The King Tito Puente '68 included boogaloo ('It stunk,' he said '77) and other styles, vocalists Andy Senatore and Rudy Calzado along with Colón; En El Puente/On The Bridge '69 included 'Congo Mulense', co-written and sung by Machito. Pa'Lante!/Straight! '70 and Para Los Rumberos '72 featured Panamanian lead vocalist Miguel 'Meñique' Barcasnegras, brother-in-law of Kako; TP arranged and directed Meñique's eponymous solo debut '72. Colón reunion The Legend '77, produced by Louie Ramírez, was nominated for a Grammy, incl.uding title track 'La Leyenda' written by Rubén Blades. Two volumes of Homenaje a Beny '78-9 on Tico paid tribute to Cuban singer/bandleader Beny Moré, with vocalists Colón, Celia Cruz, Cheo Feliciano, Héctor Lavoe, Ismael Quintana, Ismael Miranda, Adalberto Santiago, Pete 'El Conde' Rodríguez, more: Vol. 1 won his first Grammy.

Among his later big-band LPs were Grammy-nom. Dancemania 80's '80, with lead vocals by Frankie Figueroa, and Ce' Magnifique '81, with Panamanian vocalist Camilo Azuquita, who also wrote some of the LP. Puente was seen in action in the South Bronx in Jeremy Marre's TV film Salsa '79, toured Europe that year with the Latin Percussion Jazz Ensemble (LPJE), a quintet with 'Patato' Valdez and Colombian pianist Eddie Martínez, expanded to a sextet for LP Just Like Magic '79; LPJE's third European tour incl. LPJE Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival 1980 with Cuban violinist Alfredo de la Fé, Argentine pianist Jorge Dalto (1948-87). The group became octet Latin Ensemble, recorded Tito Puente And His Latin Ensemble On Broadway '83 for Concord Jazz's Picante Latin series and won a Grammy, with stalwarts from the big band including Jimmy Frisaura (trombone, trumpet, flugelhorn; retired after a heart attack '89), Bobby Rodríguez on bass, Mario Rivera on saxes and flute, plus Johnny 'Dandy' Rodríguez on percussion (see Típica 73); further LPs on Concord are El Rey '84 (live at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco), Mambo Diablo '85 (another Grammy, including George Shearing on 'Lullaby Of Birdland', Sonny Bravo on piano for the rest), Sensación '86 with guest Terry Gibbs, Un Poco Loco '87 incl. both Latin Ensemble and big band, Salsa Meets Jazz '88 with guest Phil Woods, Goza Mí Timbal '89 (dedicated to Frisaura, track 'Lambada Timbales' won a Grammy), Out Of This World '91, Mambo Of The Times '92, Royal T '93, Master Timbalero '94. Returned to big-band lineup for Grammy-nominated The Mambo King: 100th LP '91 (also dedicated to Frisaura) and electrifying concert video Tito Puente: 100th LP '92 (latter made at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico), both on RMM, with mini-galaxy of salsa singers including Colón, Cruz, Miranda, Oscar D'León, José Alberto, Tito Nieves, Tony Vega, Domingo Quiñones. TP's Latin jazz recorded work underwent a revitalization with the Golden Latin Jazz All Stars (including Santamaría, Paquito D'Rivera, Dave Valentín, Hilton Ruiz, Andy González and Mario Rivera) on 'Live' At The Village Gate '92, followed by 'In Session' '94 (minus D'Rivera), both on RMM's Tropijazz label. The Latin Ensemble made their debut on Tropijazz with Tito's Idea '95.

Puente had backed many singers: Valdés on Tito Puente Swings, Vicentico Valdés Sings c'58 on Tico, Manny Román on Eras '67 on Decca, Myrta Silva on Puerto Rico Canta y Baila '60s on Musicor; from mid-'60s he backed a number of women on Tico: with La Lupe (1939-92) on Tito Puente Swings -- The Exciting Lupe Sings '65, Tú y Yo c'65, Homenaje a Rafael Hernández c'66, El Rey y Yo '67; Celia Cruz on Cuba y Puerto Rico Son '66, Quimbo Quimbumbia '69, Alma Con Alma c'71, En España c'71, Algo Especial Para Recordar '72, Grammy-nominated Homenaje a Beny Moré Vol. III '85 on Vaya (also included Santiago, Lavoe, El Conde plus Justo Betancourt and Héctor Casanova); Noraida (Beny Moré's widow) on Tito Puente Presenta Noraida c'71 and Me Voy a Desquitar '71. He also played with Woody Herman on Herman's Heat And Puente's Beat '58 on Everest, with the Tico All-Stars on their Descargas At The Village Gate -- Live '66 (three vols on Tico), with Fania All Stars Live At The Red Garter '68 (two volumes on Fania), with Tico-Alegre All Stars Live At Carnegie Hall '74, also on Cal Tjader LP Primo on Fantasy '73, Ray Barretto's two-disc Tomorrow '76 on Atlantic, La Cuna '81 on CTI; jazz singer Dianne Reeves stopped the show at Monterey Jazz Festival '84 with 'Be My Husband' backed by Puente; he played timbales, vibes, arranged his 'Ban-Con-Tim' on Super All Star '84 on Caimán. Appeared in the Woody Allen film Radio Days '87, The Mambo Kings '92 (and soundtrack album); NARAS presented him with a Eubie Award for Lifetime Achievement in the recording industry '89; he received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame '90. In July '95 Puente held an impromptu jam at the grand opening of his restaurant in City Island, NY, first in a proposed chain; celebrities present included Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco, Al Santiago, Larry Harlow, Paul Simon. Jazzin' on Tropijazz had Puente with his own all-star Latin group, with the Count Basie ghost band and with a combo led by Hilton Ruiz, all backing the powerful vocalist India. As his 50th anniversary as a bandleader approached he participated in the all-star RMM set RMM's European Salsa Explosion '95, TropiJazz All-Stars' Volume 1 '96 and Live! Volume 2 '97, and Nu Yorican Soul '96 on Talkin' Loud, as well as Special Delivery '96 on Concord Picante with guest Maynard Ferguson; there was an event at NYC's Museo del Barrio on 23 Feb. '97 (proclaimed Tito Puente Day by the Bronx Borough President) and a three-CD set 50 Years Of Swing on RMM, a multi-label survey of the career of a living legend.