By now, I am hoping that you have already experienced the first volume of Tito Puente's Classic Tico 78 rpm Recordings. This second installment is a mind blower, 40 tunes on two CDs, some of them released for the first time. Here you will find Tito performing together with the famous DeCastro Sisters, as well as tracks featuring such brilliant performers as Willie Bobo and Charlie Palmieri. This set includes some of the most famous tunes of that period, known as the Palladium or mambo era. ...MORE >
By now, I am hoping that you have already experienced the first volume of Tito Puente's Classic Tico 78 rpm Recordings. This second installment is a mind blower, 40 tunes on two CDs, some of them released for the first time. Here you will find Tito performing together with the famous DeCastro Sisters, as well as tracks featuring such brilliant performers as Willie Bobo and Charlie Palmieri. This set includes some of the most famous tunes of that period, known as the Palladium or mambo era.
The genius of Tito Puente is evident throughout this set - notice how each individual track boasts a unique arrangement that separates it from the rest. This knack for originality distinguished many of the Latin big bands that were active during the '40s and '50s, particularly the orchestras of Machito, Tito Rodríguez, and of course, Puente himself. There is a certain warmth to these recordings, a warmth that is absent from many of today's bands, with their cold, tinny and repetitive sounds.
Tito was always experimenting. He was also skillful enough to arrange for other big bands - even though many of them were competing with each other, trying to sound better than anyone else. A perfect example is the classic “Cuban Nightingale,” better known as “Sun Sun Babae,” a 78 rpm Tico classic made famous by Tito Rodríguez. Tito's version includes English lyrics and the voices of the DeCastro Sisters. The result is pure genius.
This compilation showcases a variety of mambos, boleros and Latin jazz tracks, all of them performed by the Maestro himself. Nine of the tunes in this volume are original Tito Puente compositions. Some of these were the last tracks that Vicentico Valdés recorded with Tito as his featured vocalist - regarded by some aficionados as the best Latin music ever committed to tape.
When Vicentico left Puente in order to form his own orchestra, percussionist Manny Oquendo followed him too. He was replaced by Willie (Correa) Bobo, who, along with Mongo Santamaría, helped Tito in creating one of the best Latin rhythm sections in the history of our music. Tito's pioneering LPs Puente in Percussion and Top Percussion are some of his most popular albums today.
The importance of these recordings is not only cultural, but historical as well. They document an era that will never be equaled again - an era that produced some of the best dancers in Latin music: Cuban Pete and Millie Donay, Louie Marquina, Ernie Ensley and Dottie, Killer Joe Piro, and Augie and Margo - who went on to achieve international fame and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Some of the most impressive Latin dancers of the day were Jewish and Italian, also known as mambonics.
The first CD of this collection begins with “Cuban Nightingale” (Sun Sun Babae) as performed with the DeCastro Sisters. It is followed by “Tonight I Am In Heaven,” a big hit during that period because it was sung in English and those who were in love identified with it. Talk about crossover.
Performed by Vicentico Valdés, “La Güira” is one of my favorite tracks here. “La Gloria Eres Tú” is considered by many to be the bolero of all boleros. Check out Vicentico's torrid vocalizing, and Tito's sensuous work on the vibes. At the time, Vicentico was considered to be a supreme interpreter of the bolero genre. “Mambo Diablo” is a haunting mambo with Tito on vibes - it was written by the Maestro himself.
“Aprieta El Pollo” is another Tito original, which was also recorded in the early '60s by conguero Ray Barretto. “Cuero Na Ma” is a swinging percussion ensemble piece with Mongo Santamaría on congas, Manny Oquendo on bongo, and Tito's timbales. The Cole Porter standard “What Is This Thing Called Love” boasts the presence of Charlie Palmieri on piano, playing off Tito's vibes. A beautiful bolero with Vicentico on vocals, “Tú Mi Amor Divino” is the closing track of the first CD.
Our second CD begins with the Tito original “Mambo En Blues,” which he would record again in 1998. You will also find the last tracks recorded by Vicentico Valdés just before Gilberto Monroig took over as lead vocalist - here are classic boleros like “Nueva Vida,” “Me Quieras O No Me Quieras,” “Si Me Dice Que Sí,” “Palabras Calladas” and the luscious “Luna Yumurina.”
Why was Tito called “The King of Latin Music?” Listen to the big band arrangements of four Tito originals and you will understand why: “Mambo Birdland” pays tribute to the famous jazz night club located on 52nd and Broadway - Tito recorded a powerful concert version of this tune in 1998 at the new Birdland. “Mambo City” is a smoking mambo, a reference to the myriad cities all over America that were feverishly dancing the mambo. “Mambo Mist” and “Mambo Night” are equally impressive.
The recordings on this collection were the work of a 28 year old musician who was so far ahead of his time, that he was often called a genius. Throughout the years, countless musicians have stated that there will never be another arranger in Latin music like Tito Puente. So sit back, listen and dance to the greatest Latin music ever recorded by the King himself, Mr. Tito Puente.
Compiled, sequenced and produced by Joe Conzo, Music Historian / Consultant
Photos: Joe Conzo’s archive LESS >