He was born Ernest Anthony Puente Jr. on April 20, 1923, in New York City. Growing up in East Harlem, his mother would always call him Ernestito - thus, most of his friends called him Ernie or Tito, and as he got older, the name Tito stuck with him. As a child, Tito played stickball and marbles, but he also grew up during the golden age of radio. He listened to all kinds of music, from big band jazz to the sounds of Cuba and Puerto Rico. ...MORE >
He was born Ernest Anthony Puente Jr. on April 20, 1923, in New York City. Growing up in East Harlem, his mother would always call him Ernestito - thus, most of his friends called him Ernie or Tito, and as he got older, the name Tito stuck with him. As a child, Tito played stickball and marbles, but he also grew up during the golden age of radio. He listened to all kinds of music, from big band jazz to the sounds of Cuba and Puerto Rico.
He also grew up watching Hollywood musicals - there was no television at the time. His interest in music was shown at an early age, and his mother enrolled him in the New York School of Music as a piano student. He practiced during his elementary and junior school years, but he was also constantly banging on things - from the window sills to the garbage cans. Soon enough, his mother sought out a drum teacher for her son, and Tito learned the foundations of snare drum technique, and how to accompany shows.
By the time Tito was thirteen, he was considered a child prodigy in Spanish Harlem. He expanded his talents by studying dance with his younger sister Anna and by singing in a barbershop quartet. In effect, Tito was one of the few bandleaders who knew how to dance.
During the '30s, Tito fine tuned his craft by playing with all types of groups. One band in particular was called Los Happy Boys. It was through them that Tito befriended a Cuban drummer called Montesino, whom he credits with showing him the fundamentals of the timbales. Tito also played with the bands of Noro Morales, Ramón Olivero, José Curbelo and Machito - namely because of his ability to read music. After two years of high school, Tito was granted permission from his father to leave school and became a full time freelance musician. It was during this time that he became interested in the saxophone, studying woodwinds and adding vibes and marimba to his repertoire. Tito was the first musician to play vibes in Latin music.
When World War II started in 1941, Machito’s regular timbalero was drafted and Tito replaced him. It was during his stint with Machito that, being the showman that he was, Tito was asked to bring the timbales to the front of the stage and play standing up - a historic moment. Today, most timbaleros play in front of the band thanks to Tito Puente.
Tito was also drafted and served on the USS SANTEE, where he befriended musicians from the bands of Charlie Spivak, Benny Goodman and others, learning the rudiments of arranging. Upon his discharge from the Navy in 1945, he wrote arrangements for a variety of Latin bands. He completed his formal education at the Julliard School of Music, studying orchestration, conducting and theory. He also studied the famous Shillinger system, based on math and theory.
From 1946 to 1949, Tito kept himself busy playing with the bands of José Curbelo, Fernando Alvarez and Pupi Campo. Between 1947 and 1948, he left the Pupi Campo band and formed a matinée group that performed at the Alma dance studios, which later would become the Palladium - home of the mambo and the cha cha cha. The band was called the Picadilly Boys, later known as Tito Puente and his Conjunto. Tito's official debut as a bandleader took place at the Patio Beach Club in Long Island on July 4, 1949.
In the late '40s, Cuban bandleader Pérez Prado recorded a new rhythm that had come out of Cuba called mambo. It became a sensation, and everyone started to record this new rhythm. But the mambo that had been pioneered by Israel 'Cachao' López and his brother Orestes while playing with Arcaño's orchestra in Cuba was a completely different animal than Prado's brassier style. Then came Machito, Puente and Tito Rodríguez, giving the mambo a different flavor, New York style - progressive and still unequaled to this day.
A number of celebrities frequented the Palladium between 1949 and 1966: Marlon Brando, Henry Fonda, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope and Kim Novak, as well as musicians like Stan Kenton, Xavier Cugat, Cal Tjader and George Shearing. The club's biggest attraction, however, was the music, as performed by Machito, Puente and Rodríguez.
I was commissioned by Giora Breil, CEO of the Emusica Records, to put together the classic Tico 78 RPM recordings of Tito Puente and his Conjunto, Orchestra and Quartet (1949-1955). All 156 of them. Nobody recorded so many singles at that time.
Many of these recordings have never been available on CD until now. Keep in mind that Tito's only LP from that time was the classic Puente In Percussion. Everything else was recorded in 78 RPM.
These recordings showcase the true genius of Tito Puente, documenting the transition from conjunto bandleader to big band arranger, composer, conductor and creator of a sound that became popular all over the world. The songs included in this collection will set your dancing feet on fire.
These recordings has been compiled and sequenced from the original Tico catalogue, a copy of which I have lovingly preserved. Many tracks have been remastered from my collection of the original 78 RPM recordings because the original masters are not available and so you will hear surface noise and clicks on them,
The first disc on this collection kicks off with a beautiful bolero, ''Un Corazón," performed by Johnny López. Tito's self-penned "Mambo Macoco'' was the A-side of his first big hit, "Abaniquito," a swinging mambo featuring Vicentico Valdés on vocals, Mario Bauzá on trumpet and Graciela on coros. "Tito’s Mambo" showcases Tito's work on the timbales. "Babalagua" is a beautiful Afro tune sung by Bobby Escoto. Check out the sensous "Mambolero' with Vicentico Valdés and Tito shining on the vibes. Tito's original composition "Mambo La Roca" was later recorded by Woody Herman, renamed "Mambo Rockland." A Latin jazz track, "Esy" is dedicated to the great Esy Morales.
Performed beautifully by Vicentico Valdés, "Soy Feliz" opens disc 2, which also includes the rare track "Tinguaro," composed by the original Mambo King, Cachao. Also present is the original version of "Tatalibabá" with Vicentico, recorded again with Celia Cruz in 1972. "Mambo Gallego" can be heard during a dance sequence on the film The Mambo Kings. "Mari Juana" has a double meaning-- especially these days.
Tito went on to record more than 135 LP and wrote over 650 tunes - the most famous being the ubiquitous "Oye Como Va." Not bad for a guy who was born and raised in the Spanish Harlem
So sit back, listen, dance, and enjoy these historical recordings by the King of Latin Music, Tito Puente.