Ernest Anthony Puente, Jr., Tito Puente is internationally recognized for his enormous and significant contributions to Latin music as a bandleader, composer, arranger, percussionist, and mentor. Popularly known as the “El Rey del Timbal” and the “King of Mambo”, he recorded more than 100 albums, published more than 400 compositions, and won six Grammy awards. Although he played and recorded jazz and salsa, Puente is one of only a handful of musicians who deserve the title “legendary”, primarily for his mastery of the mambo. Puente has been credited with introducing the timbal and the vibraphone to Afro-Cuban music, Puente also played the trap drums, the conga drums, the claves, the piano, and occasionally, the saxophone and the clarinet. While Puente was perhaps best known for his all-time best- selling 1958 mambo album “Dance Mania”, his eclectic sound has continued to transcend cultural and generational boundaries. As a testament to his popularity with a younger audience, Puente has recorded with rocker Carlos Santana and has performed regularly at college concerts throughout the country. He has also appeared in several films, received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and performed on television’s The David Letterman Show.
Born on 20 April 1923 in New York City, Puente’s artistic talents first developed in the field of dance. In 1935, his sister Anna and he became members of “Stars of the Future” a neighborhood artistic organization. On four occasions, Tito was honored for his exceptional dance ability.
After hearing a solo by Cuban pianist, Anselmo Sacassas Tito began his musical education on the piano. Occasional tutors were Victoria Hernandez, sister of Puerto Rico’s legendary composer Rafael Hernandez, and Luis Varona of the Machito orchestra who later would play with Tito’s orchestra. He also studied drums and idolized Gene Krupa. He later mastered the alto sax and was accomplished on the vibraphone.
Puente then went on to work with Cuban pianist and bandleader Jose Curbelo beginning in December of 1939. Curbelo became his first music mentor and perhaps more importantly taught Puente the fundamentals of the music business. He then played with Johnny Rodriguez, Anselmo Sacassas, the musician that had inspired his piano study, and the great Noro Morales.
In June 1942, he joined the Machito orchestra. Machito became Puente’s primary musical mentor. At one point Tito left Machito to play percussion for the Jack Cole dancers. Soon thereafter he was drafted into the Navy and served in World War II. He played saxophone and drums with the band on the ship. He learned how to arrange music from a pilot that played sax.Read more
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- Party With Puente! by Jim Santella
- Tito Puente Live at the Playboy Jazz Festival by Javier AQ Ortiz
- The Rough Guide to Tito Puente by Norman Weinstein
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