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Playlist: Tito Puente: An Introduction


Tito Puente, conductor, composer, percussionist, pianist, vibraphonist, saxophonist, and vocalist

News | Jun, 21st 2020

Few artists can say they were as busy as Tito Puente, whose career as as a conductor, composer, percussionist, pianist, vibraphonist, saxophonist, and vocalist spanned nearly 120 records over more than 50 years. 

As a child born to Puerto Rican parents in El Barrio of East Harlem, Puente took piano lessons taught by Luis Varona, pianist for the trail-blazing Machito and His Afro-Cubans. Puente went on to sit in as Machito’s drummer and featured soloist on the timbales until he was drafted to serve in the Navy during WWII. Upon his return in 1945, Puente enrolled at Juilliard to study conducting, orchestration and theory under the G.I. Bill, while maintaining a residency as a drummer at the Copacabana alongside Charlie Palmieri on piano. 

The late 1940s marked the rise in a bustling Latin music scene with the opening of the Palladium, a dance club that regularly featured the Machito Orchestra. Puente became increasingly popular, culminating in the release of Dance Mania in 1958. The album quickly became one of his best-selling records, introducing mainstream tastes to Latin dance music and later becoming one of the first 50 albums inducted into the U.S. Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry (alongside Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue) in 2003. During the 60s, Puente’s star continued to rise with the release of “Oye Cómo Va” as well as his work leading bands for Afro-Cuban sensations La Lupe and Celia Cruz. 

Puente’s legacy as a visionary pioneer of Latin jazz who bridged the Afrodiasporic rhythms of Cuba and Puerto Rico lives on today. For this playlist, we explore the full spectrum of Puente's music, ranging from his 1949 hit “Abaniquito” to his exploration of mambos and Afro-Cuban rhythms with projects like Puente In Percussion to some of his biggest commercial successes.



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