Tito Puente Legacy Alive and Swinging

Tito Puente Retrospective: 50 Years of 'El Rey'

(April 20-22, 2017) Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture presented what could only be described as an outstanding tribute to Latin Music legend Ernesto Antonio “Tito” Puente. The 3-day event titled Tito Puente Retrospective: 50 Years of ‘El Rey’ worked the historic landscape of his journey, planted fresh seeds in the here and now, and celebrated another bounty of young musicians inspired by the priceless contributions of Puente’s genius and mastery.

The retrospective started off, Thursday evening, with a screening of the documentary titled ‘Tito Puente – The King of Latin Music’ in the Repertory Theater. The film presents key periods of Puente’s life leading up to his personal triumph of performing his music with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico. On-stage for a post-doc Q&A were TP’s longtime friends Joe Conzo Sr. (author of ‘Mambo Diablo: My Journey with Tito Puente’) and concert producer Robert Sancho (Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center Vice-President).

Joe Conzo, Sr. “The Listening Room” @ Tito Puente Retrospective: 50 Years of ‘El Rey’

Prior to Friday’s concert, folks who wanted to just sit back and put their ears on some rare audio recordings of Puente performances did so in the Longwood Art Gallery. Joe Conzo Sr. presented “The Listening Room.” What a thrill to hear Puente performing at the famous Palladium Ball Room, and at a farewell jam for the late giant of the keyboards, Charlie Palmieri. Conzo has more than 6,000 Puente recordings in his archive.

The opening concert held in the Main Theater titled “Puente For The Next Generation,” brought together a cast of young talent headed up by bassist Carlos Henríquez. The Bronx native has had first-hand experience as a teenager of performing with Puente. He is, presently, the bassist for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The members of “Puente For The Next Generation” included: Michael Rodríguez, Bruce Harris, Jonathan Powell and Kali Rodríguez (trumpets); Carl Maraghi, Ivan Renta, and Louis Fouche (saxophones); Robert Rodríguez, (piano); Marcos López (timbales); Marcos Torres (congas); and Camilo Molina (bongos).

“Puente For The Next Generation” @ Tito Puente Retrospective: 50 Years of ‘El Rey’

The orchestra went full blown 14-pieces with classic jams like Havana Special, Dance Mania and Varsity Drag Mambo. Musical Director Henríquez, then trimmed it down to a Puente latin-jazz ensemble style to perform pieces like the Hilton Ruiz composition ‘New Arrival’ and Freddie Hubbard‘s ‘Little Sun Flower.’ The sound that jumped off the stage was tight, rich with improvisations, and a pure musical delight.

Saturday morning started off with the Lincoln Center Education Family Concert: “Who is the King of Latin Music?” in the Main Theater. The program conducted by Carlos Henríquez introduced families to the music of Tito Puente. Joining the family concert band in the rhythm section were veterans John “Dandy” Rodríguez, José Madera, George Delgado and Geraldo Madera. Singer Marcos Bermúdez delivered a beautiful rendition of the bolero “Estoy Siempre Junto A Ti.” Henríquez described the bolero to his young audience as “the reason why many of you are here today.” After much crowd laughter, he suggested that when they get older to ask their parents about that. Prior to the concert, children ages 5 to 10, and families, took part in a multi-disciplinary arts workshop led by performance artist Jadele McPherson.

Latin Percussion Workshop @ Tito Puente Retrospective: 50 Years of ‘El Rey’

Tito Puente Orchestra veterans John “Dandy” Rodríguez and José Madera were joined by Nicaraguan-American Latin Jazz percussionist and educator Annette Aguilar to lead the Latin Percussion Workshop held in the Black Box Theater. The trio covered the rhythmic elements of Latin Music, from clave to “paqueteos.”

“Don’t Call it Salsa: The Impact of Tito Puente on Latin Music” held in the Repertory Theater explored Puente’s impact on Latin jazz and Latin music. The panel name was partly coined after a statement Tito Puente once made about the labeling of Afro-Cuban Music as the popularized ‘Salsa.’ Acting as moderator was Loren Schoenberg, Founder and Senior Scholar of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. The panelists included: Latin Jazz percussionist and educator Annette Aguilar; Puente archivist, biographer, and confidante, Joe Conzo, Sr., bassist / bandleader Carlos Henríquez; former Puente Music Director José Madera; percussionist and Típica‘73 founder, John “Dandy” Rodríguez, and vibraphonist Ronnie Puente.

Those members of the panel who had actually worked with Puente for years rendered a portrait of a driven musician that opened up unimaginable opportunities for his band all over the world while inspiring subsequent generations with his creativity and resolve. But, it was Ronnie Puente, Tito’s oldest son, that gave us a more intimate sketch of the man he knew as his father. He reflected on the price of his father’s fame that he and the rest of their family inevitably paid.

“Rediscovering Lost Treasures of the Palladium Era” was the grand finale concert of the Puente tribute which, by the way, coincided with his birthday. April 20th would have been Tito’s 94th year of life.

Bringing the frosting for the cake was the spectacular 18-piece Mambo Legends Orchestra with veterans Music Director José Madera (timbales) and John “Dandy” Rodríguez (bongoces). Other notable Puente Orchestra alumni joining the mambo mania were saxmen Pete Miranda (baritone) and Bobby Porcelli (alto).

Jam after jam, the Mambo Legends Orchestra delivered the impeccable Puente Big Band percussive style to a full house in the Main Theater. Their playlist brought classics like Caribe Blues, Tatalibaba, and Que Sera Mi China which spotlighted the vocal talents of Frankie Vásquez. And what about that flute solo by vocalist Jeremy Bosch, during Pare Cochero! Close your eyes for a second, and you could have felt Dave Valentin’s spirit in the house.

Cita Rodriguez – “Rediscovering Lost Treasures of the Palladium Era” @ Tito Puente Retrospective: 50 Years of ‘El Rey’

The energy level was rising so fast that the house lights even got brighter. The cool down came with Estoy Siempre Junto A Ti. Once again, singer Marcos Bermúdez gave a brilliant performance of this bolero off Tito’s Dance Mania album. But, no sooner had romance begun to fill the air, the Mambo Legends Orchestra dropped the hammer and brought out Cita Rodriguez. WEPA! I think Rafael Hernández and Tito Puente both were dancing in their glory to the swing. Adding more sofrito to the stew was trumpet player Dennis Hernández, during Cita’s performance of the Celia Cruz classic Caramelos.

Rounding off the rest of the Mambo Legends Orchestra were Andrew Gould (alto), Peter Brainin (tenor), Jorge Castro (tenor), Kevin Bryan (trumpet), Ángel Fernández (trumpet), Sam Burtis (trombone), Doug Beavers (trombone), Tokunori Kajiwara (trombone), Mike Eckroth (piano), Gerardo Madera (bass), and George Delgado (congas). Jim Byers, host of The Latin Flavor on Washington D.C.’s WPFW, was the finale MC, accompanied by Joe Conzo Sr. (author of ‘Mambo Diablo: My Journey with Tito Puente’)

The Tito Puente Retrospective: 50 Years of ‘El Rey’ concluded with an after-party called “Dance Mania” in the Hostos cafeteria. DJ Roy provided an exclusive mix of Puente dance jams to complete the night.

For a downloadable copy of the Tito Puente Retrospective, CLICK HERE.


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