The Mambo Legends Orchestra, Tito Puente’s legacy band with special guests, salute “The King of Latin Music” and his contemporaries Celia Cruz, La Lupe, Vicentico Valdes, Santos Colon, and more with your mambo, salsa, and bolero favorites; at Hostos Center in Mott Haven, The Bronx; Saturday, November 11, 2023 at 8pm. From $45. hostos.cuny.edu 🇵🇷 🇨🇺 🇩🇴 🇪🇸
Tito Puente isn’t news, but Hostos Center is an educational institution. They keep exposing the next generation to the artists that made us who we are today. That’s important work, much to Hostos’ credit. Tito Puente wasn’t called “The King of Latin Music” for nothing. Most of the artists in this show played with him. Many were mentored by him. They are the next generation who played with the originals and are now becoming legends themselves.
Mambo is a form of Cuban dance music that was a transition from the more structured Cuban danzón, through Pérez Prado’s big band jazz mambo, to the style of music played at the Palladium Ballroom in New York City from 1947-1960. The Palladium Ballroom’s “Big Three” bands were Machito, Tito Puente, and Tito Rodríguez. The Mambo Craze that swept America in the 1950s started at The Palladium. It was followed by a cha-cha-cha craze. All of this eventually evolved into salsa.
Tito Puente was New York Puerto Rican, but his sound was very Cuban. Today Puerto Rican jazz and salsa has its own sound, but in the 1950s the game was to sound Cuban.
Tito Puente, “The King of Latin Music”
Tito was from “El Barrio” East Harlem. He lived up on 110th St which is now Tito Puente Way. He was a dancer before he was a drummer. As related by Joe Conzo, Sr., Tito used to tell his mom he was taking out the trash, put his dance shoes in the bag, and then cross Fifth Avenue to Harlem and listen to the great jazz bands playing there.
He dreamed of playing drums like Benny Goodman’s drummer Gene Krupa. Krupa is “the founding father of the modern drum kit” (Modern Drummer) and one of the most influential jazz drummers.
Krupa had this style of playing like he was completely possessed, a “frenzied, flashy” style. Tito Puente developed his own flavor of the same style. While playing, he often looked like he lost his mind, but he made the most inspiring music. He didn’t lose his mind. He was a Juilliard-trained musician, but he was a natural showman. It was partly the dancer in him. He danced on the timbales. And in Caribbean tradition, being possessed isn’t a bad thing. It’s a great honor, a sign of spiritual connection with the forces of nature.
People love performing artists for their artist/audience connection. One of the ways we understand other people’s emotions is by subtly mimicking their expressions in our own face. It’s an internal thing that most won’t notice, but that’s how we understand. The French call it bonding and rapport. It’s a mimicking that leads to understanding.
When great performing artists get up on stage, they open themselves to the Universe (whatever you want to call it), let go, and do their thing. Opening up and letting go feels great. It’s what we do when we make love, and spend time with our family and friends. So when Tito opened up the way he did, people loved it because he opened them up too. They felt their own divinity.
All of the legends being honored in this show were masters at opening up and letting go on stage. Some artists are loved for it, some like La Lupe were criticized for it. But that’s what all that practice is for, to get out of your mind, and perform intuitively.
So Tito really was the “Mambo Diablo” in the best sense of those words.
An All Star Lineup
The incredible lineup features John “Dandy” Rodriguez, Ronnie Puente and Tito Puente Jr; with Carlos Henriquez, Jimmy Delgado, Louis Bauzó, Ray Vega, Humberto Rámirez from Puerto Rico, Lucrecia (singing Celia Cruz), Yolanda Duke (singing La Lupe), and Jeremy Bosch.
- Ronnie and Tito Jr are Tito Puente’s children. Jr is a timbalero too. @titopuentejr 🇵🇷
- Fania All-Star John “Dandy” Rodriguez was Tito Puente’s longtime bongo player and also played with Tito Rodríguez and Ray Barretto before forming his own band Típica 73. Barretto’s hit “Sangre Nueva” is about that. 🇵🇷
- Carlos Henriquez played with Tito Puente and studied at Juilliard under a Tito Puente scholarship. He is now the bass chair of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. We got our first introduction to Tito Puente from Carlos. @henriquez.music 🇵🇷
- Jimmy Delgado is a timbalero from The Bronx. He is best known for his work with Ray Barretto and Luis “Perico” Ortiz. Ya. Those were wild times. @jimmy_delgado_
- Louis Bauzó from Puerto Rico attended Juilliard and played in Tito Puente’s orchestra in the 1970s. 🇵🇷
- Ray Vega is a trumpeter from the South Bronx who played in Tito’s orchestra. @rayvegatrumpet
- Humberto Rámirez from Puerto Rico is a Grammy-winning trumpeter who played with Tito and many legends. @humbertotrumpetman 🇵🇷
- Lucrecia is a Spanish Cuban Emmy and Grammy winner from Havana, who channels Celia Cruz and other legends. There’s a photo on her instagram of Celia’s manager Omer Pardillo Cid. That’s as close as we can get to Celia today. @lucreciaagua 🇪🇸 🇨🇺
- Yolanda Duke is a Dominican singer who Tito mentored. We have all kinds of Latin music in La Republica, but with Dominican flavor. Bachata is sort of high-energy Dominican bolero. Duke is known for channeling La Lupe, one of the great Cuban bolero and boogaloo (Latin soul) singers. @yolandaduke1 🇩🇴
- Jeremy Bosch from Ponce, Puerto Rico, is one of our favorite Latin jazz and salsa singers. He went to Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship right out of high school. Berklee, which produces a steady stream of jazz stars, scouts young talent in the Caribbean. We love Bosch’s work with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. He just released another of his own albums last week. @jeremyboschofficial 🇵🇷
The show’s title comes from Tito Puente’s 1985 album. John “Dandy” Rodriguez played bongos on it.
It’s also the title of the book “Mambo Diablo: My Journey with Tito Puente,” by Tito’s old friend Joe Conzo, Sr. We have it at home. It’s one of the most intimate looks at Tito’s life and all the excitement that surrounded his career spanning a Golden Age of Latin music from the 1950s to the 1970s. Joe once gave us an unforgettable tour of Hostos College. He has a deep library of archival material, some of which still hasn’t been shared publicly. It’s an honor to hang with him, so do go to his lectures. @conzosr
Mambo Diablo Never-Before-Heard Live Recordings of Tito Puente is hosted by his friend and biographer Joe Conzo, Sr. at Hostos Center in Mott Haven, The Bronx; on Saturday, November 11, 2023 from 3-5pm. FREE with rsvp. eventbrite.com