by Rosie G.
I have always wanted to be a drummer or a timbales player. As a child I was constantly tapping on things either with my mom’s cooking spoons or with the long log sticks that I had from Lincoln logs. Either way I was always making some kind of noise. When my mom turned on the record player and played some Tito Puente, I went nuts banging on everything; I guess you could say I’m a frustrated drummer. Remembering those times made me think how appropriate to write about El Rey de los timbales, Tito Puente.
Tito Puente was born Ernesto Antonio Puente, Jr, on April 20, 1923 in what many consider the heart of Latin music and culture; New York’s Spanish Harlem. He started playing the piano and later studied percussion. By the time he was 13, he was a professional musician.
When he came of age he was drafted to the Navy, and because of the GI Bill was able to attend The Julliard School. At this prestigious music school he learned conducting, arrangement and orchestration. Many of his compositions and arrangements were played by Machito as well as other Latin band leaders of the day. His love for the drums stems his desire to emulate his idol, Gene Krupa from the Big Band era. In an interview, Tito said, “ I was always banging on boxes on the window sill.” I think this is the way all drummers begin their careers or hobby like me.
Tito paid his dues with Machito’s orchestra and in 1948 formed his own band simply called Tito Puente’s Orchestra. Tito introduced the timbales and vibraphone to Afro-Cuban music. He is a musical pioneer in mixing musical styles with Latin music and fusing it with Jazz. If you listen to his solos on, “Ran Kan Kan” and his time spent with the Fania All Stars; or if you have ever been to the then famous Palladium here in New York City and checked him out live, you would have been mesmerized and in awe.
Tito Puente has a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a star in Union City, New Jersey’s Celia Cruz Park and his timbales are in the Smithsonian Institute. In his lifetime he recorded over 100 albums and over 200 compositions. His compositions have been recorded or sampled by the likes of Carlos Santana, La India and River Ocean.
Many years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Tito Puente at a RMM records party. It was funny because it was held at Birdland where Tito played in his early years. He was a very gracious, outgoing and funny man. In my conversation with him, I told him how I’m a frustrated drummer and would love to learn to play the timbales. He told me” just practice and you will get it right” It was an honor to meet such a pioneer of our Latin music and one experience that will stay with me forever.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.