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Tito Puente Tribute

 


Tito Puente
The King of Latin Music
1923-2000

 

No single artist associated with LP is more famous than this pioneer.  No percussionist bandleader has ever done so well.

I first saw Tito at the Palladium Ballroom on Broadway and 53rd Street in New York City.  The year was 1961.  I had just been graduated from college and with my studies behind me, I was able to visit the music clubs that I couldn't really get to while getting my degree.  The band he led at the time was tight and he was a stern task master.  It was a great time for the mambo, the dance craze at the time that was not only danced to by Latinos but by people of many other ethnic backgrounds.  It is not an easy dance to do (I never quite got it right) but they were all doing it with style in those days.  Those days were the winding down days of a great era in music.  Today, Tito is the last of that breed.  When Tito goes, so goes an era of music.

I didn't get to meet Tito until several years later.  Johnny "Dandy" Rodriguez who I had become friends with while he was working with Tito arranged to borrow a pair of Cuban made timbales that Tito had stored at his mother's house.  These drums became the prototype for the LP Tito Puente Timbales that are now the standard of excellence in percussion the world over.  The drums that I made were made from stainless steel and featured for the first time a stand mounted cowbell post.  I later added brass shells to the line and eventually made the first tilting timbale stand which was first appreciated by drummers outside of Latin music and in later years became popular with Latin players who felt they got a benefit from having the heads tilted.

Toward the end of the 1970's I decided to put a band together to tour Europe and Japan.  The reason was to develop a market for the percussion instruments that I made.  They weren't easy tours but the three European tours and one Japanese tour with groups featuring Tito and Patato along with Johnny Rodriguez and other notables of the time were highly effective in building a worldwide market for my company.

During this same period of time I began making recordings that featured Patato, José Mangual, Perico, Eddie Montalvo.  Sixteen in all.  They didn't sell and after the last performance of the Latin Percussion Jazz Ensemble in Montreux, Switzerland in July of 1980 I ended my work with in recording and presenting live music.  I could no longer take the strain.

April 20th of 1998 Tito celebrated his 75th birthday and was still working all over the globe.  For the summer of 1998 he is planning to tour with an all star band featuring Stevie Winwood and Arturo Sandoval.  His reserve of energy amazes me.  I hope I can endure as well as Tito has.

His last public birthday celebration was for his 76th birthday and took place at Jimmy's Bronx Cafe in the Bronx, New York. A place this large was needed for the party because of how many celebretaties would be attending. Bill Cosbey held court on stage and in attendence was Lionel Hampton, Isaace Hayes, Susan Taylor of Essense Magazine, ......there are many that I can't remember but are in the Gallery from that event.

The last time I spoke to Tito Puente was by phone to the hospital room a week before he passed. He was nervous, anxious to speak to those he knew and to express his hope that he would be able to come home for a holiday weekend before having his surgery. He never did return and I lost a great friend and inspriation. The entire world of music lost one of its icons. A lasting figure that commanded the spotlight and even at his advanced years, was able to make his orchestra sound like no other one could.