A day like today 20 years ago, the physical figure of “El rey del timbal”, “Tito” Puente, disappeared, but not its musical validity, of which even his son, Tito Anthony, and historians remember and excel in all corners of the planet.
“My dad transformed when he went up on stage with his orchestra. He was a musician, but at the same time a soldier, very demanding and professional with his musicians,” said Efe Tito Anthony Puente, one of the three children of Ernesto Antonio Puente, first name of the legendary musician of Puerto Rican origin.
Born in the New York neighborhood of Harlem to Puerto Rican parents who emigrated to the United States, “Tito” Puente grew up during the so-called “Jazz Age” listening to the Big Jazz Band, listening to boleros and watching musicals on television.
Puente was a musical prodigy
At the age of 7 he began to play the piano and at 17 he was already considered a prodigy within the “Barrio” -Harlem of the East, in New York-, since he played, according to his son, at least 13 instruments, in addition to the timpani, the saxophone, clarinet, bass and marimba, an instrument similar to a xylophone.
“My dad was a genius and an icon of music,” he said of his father, known for legendary songs such as “Oye como va”, which he recorded in 1963 and popularized by Mexican guitarist Carlos Santana in the 1970s.
At age 19, “Tito” Puente was recruited by the US Navy and upon graduation received recognition from the country’s presidency for his participation in nine battles.
Returning to the United States, he enrolled at The Juilliard School in New York.
Later he went through different orchestras of the time such as those of Machito or José Curbelo in which he played the drums, until in 1949 he decided to create his own orchestra, The Picadilly boys.
Puente’s first successes
His first success was achieved with “Abaniquito” which he recorded in 1949, and later, from 1951 to 1955, to record the albums “Cuban Carnival”, “Puente goes jazz”, “Night beat” and “Dancemania”.
These are the years of the Cuban musical explosion in the United States, the glorious times of the legendary Palladium ballroom, located on Broadway with 53rd Street in Manhattan, where he plays every night with his orchestra and where he stands out for his way of interpreting the music through percussion, in addition to sharing a poster with his childhood friend, Puerto Rican Tito Rodríguez.
He traveled all over the world, from Japan to Puerto Rico, playing all the genres he mastered, including Latin jazz, swing, mambo, chachachá and son montuno, some of these originated in Cuba, in addition to winning four Grammy awards.
“My dad was an ambassador for Latin music. It will be very difficult to fill his shoes. He was the king, but neither was I the prince,” said Tito Anthony.
Your son continues the legacy
Although he was able to take advantage of his father’s musical knowledge to become a great musician, Tito Anthony said that his father always instilled in him that he go to some music school, so he entered Five Towns College, in New York.
Thanks to his university degree and his musical knowledge, Tito Anthony also offers presentations that include tributes to his father.
“I push my dad’s music, because young people in schools and universities need to learn and recognize the music of Tito Puente. My destiny and my goal is to push his music to new generations,” said Tito Anthony.
Bridge music remains current
For his part, Colombian communicator Robert Téllez told Efe that Puente’s musical legacy, who recorded more than 100 albums throughout his career, “remains very relevant” in Latin music, “since many of his ideas and contributions are maintained, beyond ‘show’ on the timpani. ”
For this reason, Téllez mentioned that Puente could be considered one of the first percussion instrument soloists to stand out and be recognized, and one of the first percussionists dedicated to popular music who had formal studies, specifically in “Juilliard”.
“He broke schemes bringing the rhythm section to the front of the orchestra, when that was not the usual thing, changing not only the position of the timpani, but also the way of playing, which used to be played sitting, as in the drums. The posture that Puente He hit the kettledrum today it still remains, “Tellez said.
His “vision and versatility” also distinguished Puente from the rest of the musicians of his time, added Téllez, as the deceased artist excelled playing various instruments.
“There are really few percussionists who stand out as arrangers, but Puente had a deep understanding of all sections of the orchestra,” Tellez said.
The timpani, the great bridge companion
The author also noted that Puente stood out by “making way for the timpani, which was used only as an accompanying instrument in the rhythm section, through the shell and drumming, to make it more of a protagonist.”
Similarly, Téllez distinguished himself by “giving visibility to women, something little used by conductors”, by integrating two of the most renowned Latin performers in Afro-Caribbean music, Cubans La Lupe and Celia Cruz.
With La Lupe he formed a very fruitful duo in productions such as “Tu Y Yo / You ‘N’ Me” (1965) and “Tito Puente Swings / The Exciting Lupe Sings” (1966), while with Cruz he recorded “Cuba and Puerto Rico They are “(1966),” Quimbo Quimbumbia “(1969),” Alma con Alma “(1970),” In Spain “(1971) and” Something Special to Remember “(1972).
One of the last presentations that Puente offered was a month before his death, together with the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, at the San Juan Fine Arts Center.