One of the most loved proponents of Latin jazz was Tito Puente, the son of Puerto Rican parents who lived in the Spanish Harlem community in New York City.
Puente, who was an American songwriter, record producer and musician was given several nicknames – “The King of Latin Music,” “El Rey de los Timbales” and “The Musical Pope.” He became quite popular for his dance-oriented Latin jazz and mambo compositions.
Tito Puente was flamboyant and warm on stage. While already popular, his name became a byword when he recorded “Oye como va” and “Para los Rumberos” with Carlos Santana in the early part of the 1970s.
He was a trained musician who handled several instruments. His first ambition was to be a dancer but turned to music due to a torn tendon in his ankle. Contrary to other Salsa rhythms, Tito Puente’s type of Salsa music was joyful and cheerful and truly danceable. His time with Machito who was known for fusing progressive jazz with Latin rhythms greatly influenced his music style. He initially founded a band called the Piccadilly Boys in 1947. Later he added more members and expanded the band into an orchestra. They revived mambo and helped to make cha-cha-chá popular during the 1950s. Some artists who worked with him at that time included Ray Barretto, Johnny Pacheco, Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria. They played danceable tunes that were percussion-heavy.
Tito Puente’s repertoire was wide. His full orchestra played Latin music, big band jazz, bossa nova, pop music, boogaloos and even Broadway hits. The five-time Grammy winner had over 100 albums under his name.