Photo: Courtesy of Craft Latino
Celia Cruz & Johnny Pacheco
Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Willie Colon & More Salsa Legends Get Special Vinyl Reissues
Regarded as the "Motown Of Salsa," Fania Records was home to countless artists that moved the genre to new horizons, in its birthplace of N.Y.C. Now, a selection of its pivotal releases are being recut on vinyl from the original masters
Imagine entering a dimly lit room in Spanish Harlem to the sound of horns piercing the thick air. A smiling stranger asks you to dance, and you nod as a singer's warm vocals take center stage, flowing with the dynamic instrumentals. No, this isn't a scene from Santana's 1999 GRAMMY-winning smash hit, "Maria Maria"—this is 1970s New York and Salsa is at peak popularity, and now, possibly your living room, thanks to brand-new vinyl reissues from Fania Records.
Craft Latino, which acquired the rich Fania collection via Concord in 2018, has announced the first batch of special-edition vinyl reissues, due out on Oct. 25 and currently available for pre-order. The rereleases include Willie Colón's 1968 sophomore album The Hustler, Celia Cruz and Tito Puente's rare 1970 LP, Alma Con Alma, and Cruz and flautist and Fania Co-Founder Johnny Pacheco's 1974 collab album, Celia & Johnny.
The fourth record is a live double album by the Fania All Stars, Live At Yankee Stadium. This album features Colón, Cruz, Pacheco, Pete Rodriguez and others from their epic 1973 label concert at Yankee Stadium, which is being released on vinyl for the first time.
As noted in the press release, Alma Con Alma is one of the handful of collaborative projects that GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY winners Puente and Cruz recorded together in the '60s and '70s. "In later decades, both artists would remember these releases as some of the best work of their careers, lamenting the fact that poor promotion at the time caused these excellent albums to go virtually unnoticed," it states.
The vibrant artwork, which you can see in the photo below, has been replicated from the original artwork for this album, along with the other two reissued studio albums. The release also notes this more album reissues will be coming soon, for "an ongoing exploration and reevaluation of the Fania treasure trove."
All albums were cut from the original analog masters by remastering expert Kevin Gray and are getting released as 180-gram collectible color editions from Vinyl, Me Please. Celia & Johnny will be available exclusively via Vinyl, Me Please Classics as their October Record of the Month, while the other three can also be purchased via Craft Recordings.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
10 Facts About Latin Music At The GRAMMYs: History-Making Wins, New Categories & More
For decades, Latin music has been an indispensable part of the GRAMMYs landscape. Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations, here are some milestones in Latin music at Music’s Biggest Night.
The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are right around the corner — and as always, inspired Latin musical offerings will lie within the heart of the list.
While the Recording Academy’s sister academy, the Latin Recording Academy, naturally honors this world most comprehensively, it plays a crucial role in the GRAMMYs landscape just as in that of the Latin GRAMMYs — and there’s been crossover time and time again!
On Nov. 10, the world will behold nominations in all categories — including several within the Latin, Global, African, Reggae & New Age, Ambient, or Chant field. Within the world of Latin music, the awards are: Best Latin Pop Album, Best Música Urbana Album, Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album, Best Música Mexicana Album (Including Tejano), and Best Tropical Latin Album. The Recording Academy also offers a GRAMMY Award for Best Latin Jazz album, though that award is a part of a different field.
Like the Recording Academy and GRAMMYs themselves, these categories have evolved over the years. Along the way, various Latin music luminaries have forged milestones in Academy history.
Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations, here are some key facts to know about Latin music’s history at the GRAMMYs.
The First Award For Latin Music At The GRAMMYs Was Given In 1975
The first winner for Best Latin Recording was pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri, for 1974’s The Sun of Latin Music. Now an eight-time GRAMMY winner, Palmieri took home the golden gramophone in this category at both the 1976 GRAMMYs and the following year for Unfinished Masterpiece.
At the 1980 GRAMMYs, the first group winner was the thrice nominated Afro-Cuban jazz band Irakere, for their 1978 self-titled debut.
Percussionist Mongo Santamaria holds the record for the most nominations within the Best Latin Recording category.
The Sound Of Latin Pop — And The Title Of The Award — Has Shifted Over 40 Years
Back in 1983, this category was called Best Latin Pop Performance. The first winner was José Feliciano, who took home the golden gramophone for his album Me Enamoré at the 26th GRAMMY Awards.
Best Latin Pop Performance eventually pivoted to Best Latin Pop Album and Best Latin Pop or Urban Album, then back to Best Latin Pop Album — just another example of how the Academy continually strives for precision and inclusion in its categories.
As for most wins, it’s a tie between Feliciano and Alejandro Sanz, at four. Feliciano also holds the distinction of having two consecutive wins, at the 1990 and 1991 GRAMMYs.
The Best Latin Urban Album Category Was Introduced In 2007
The first winner in this category was the urban hip-hop outfit Calle 13, for their 2007 album Residente o Visitante.
The first female nominee was Vanessa Bañuelos, a member of the Latin rap trio La Sinfonia, who were nominated for Best Latin Urban Album for their 2008 self-titled album at the 2009 GRAMMYs.
Here’s Who Dominated The Best Norteño Album Category
The first GRAMMY winner in the Best Norteño Album category was Los Tigres Del Norte, for their 2006 album Historias Que Contar, at the 2007 GRAMMYs. To date, they have landed four consecutive wins — at the 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 GRAMMYs.
The Intersection Between Latin, Rock & Alternative Has Shifted
Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album; Best Latin Rock, Alternative Or Urban Album; Best Latin Rock/Alternative Performance… so on and so forth.
If that’s a mouthful, again, that shows how the Academy continually hones in on a musical sphere for inclusion and accuracy’s sake.
Within this shifting category, the first winner was Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, who won Best Latin Rock/Alternative Performance for 1997’s Fabulosos Calavera at the 1998 GRAMMYs.
At the 2016 GRAMMYs, there was a tie for the golden gramophone for Best Latin Rock, Urban Or Alternative Album, between Natalia Lafourcade and Pitbull. Overall, the most wins underneath this umbrella go to Maná, with a total of three.
These Artists Made History In Tropical Latin Categories
Over the years, this component of Latin music has been honored with GRAMMYs for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Performance, Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album, Best Tropical Latin Performance, and Best Tropical Latin Album.
The first winner of a GRAMMY for Best Tropical Latin Performance was Tito Puente & His Latin Ensemble, for "On Broadway," from the 1983 album of the same name.
This Was The First Latin Artist To Win Album Of The Year
Ten-time GRAMMY winner and 14-time nominee Carlos Santana holds this distinction for 1999’s "Supernatural," at the 2000 GRAMMYs.
This Was The First Spanish-Language Album To Be Nominated For Album Of The Year
That would be Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti, at the 2023 GRAMMYs; Bad Bunny also performed at the ceremony, but Harry Styles ended up taking home that golden gramophone.
Ditto Música Mexicana — Formerly Known As Best Regional Mexican Music Album
The Inaugural Trophy For Best Música Urbana Album Went To…
The one and only Bad Bunny, for 2020’s El Último Tour Del Mundo. He took home the golden gramophone again at the 2023 GRAMMYs for Un Verano Sin Ti.
Keep checking back as more information comes out about the 2024 GRAMMYs — and how the Recording Academy will honor and elevate Latin genres once again!
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Jessica Lipsky
8 Things We Learned At The International Salsa Museum's Tito Puente & La Lupe Exhibit
Held during the New York International Salsa Congress, the ISM pop-up featured artifacts from NYC's rich salsa history. The exhibit highlighted items from legendary singer La Lupe and GRAMMY-winning percussionist Tito Puente.
Salsa was born in New York City, so it's only natural that there should be a museum dedicated to its origins, influence and multifarious sounds.
The Bronx-based nonprofit International Salsa Museum is at the center of that mission. While they don't have a dedicated space yet — organizers hope to take over a decommissioned armory in the Bronx within five years — ISM brought part of their collection to the New York International Salsa Congress over Labor Day weekend.
Featuring art, clothing, instruments and photography, the exhibit highlighted legendary musicians such as percussionist Ralph Irizarry and singer/songwriter Luis Figueroa, as well as trailblazing choreographer Eddie Torres sr. Images of Latin culture in New York from the 1980s and '90s, from block parties to early shots of Marc Anthony, were also present.
Yet the heart of the exhibit centered on Tito Puente, the six-time GRAMMY-winning percussionist, bandleader and producer, and Cuban singer La Lupe. Dubbed "The Queen of Latin Soul" in her 1960s heyday, La Lupe sold millions of records and was the first Latina to perform at Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. She was a friend and frequent collaborator of Puente's in the '60s.
ISM Co-Founder and musician Willy Rodriguez went to the musicians' families to speak to them about their relative's legacy. "I get emotional talking about it," Rodriguez told GRAMMY.com. "Us doing this is not necessarily just showing the history, but it's also healing for the families."
On display is one of Puente's suits — a black three-piece with a wide lapel, which he wore while performing with the Puerto Rican Symphony — alongside his bandstand, musical charts, contracts and various honors. La Lupe's music charts, photos and albums were all rescued following a devastating fire in her New York City apartment in the 1980s; some of the items bear water and fire damage. "Looking at these pictures, I can envision her going into the apartment, grabbing her kids, grabbing all these items and just running out. That's why this is so important," Rodriguez says.
The Puente/La Lupe section of the exhibit was curated around feeling, Rodriguez adds. "It's about going out to the family, speaking to them about: What is it that we're doing? Why are we doing it? It's not about the money; it's about the legacies of these people."
With preservation and education in mind, read on for eight things GRAMMY.com learned about La Lupe and Tito Puente.
La Lupe Transcended Genre And Broke Barriers For Women In Latin Music
A display of salvaged items owned by La Lupe┃ISM
Born Lupe Yoli Raymond, La Lupe arrived in New York from Cuba in 1962. Already a successful performer in her home country prior to the revolution, La Lupe initially worked with percussionist Mongo Santamaría before connecting with Tito Puente. La Lupe's work with Puente predates his work with that of legendary Cuban singer Celia Cruz.
By 1968, La Lupe performed as a solo artist, singing boleros, boogaloos and Latin soul in both English and Spanish. Some of her biggest hits were "Fiebre," Qué te pedí?" and “La Tirana,” an anthem about the aftermath of a love affair. Although maligned for her sexual performances and forthright personality in the male-dominated Latin music industry, it's impossible to deny La Lupe's talent and professionalism.
At the ISM exhibit, Rodriguez points out a handwritten musical chart. "The entire band is here: the piano, the trombone, the trumpet. This is soul/salsa and all the parts are there, all original with her hand signature. That's her handwriting."
La Lupe created polyrhythmic arrangements, "putting them into sounds that you hear in R&B and pop music and soul music,” artist-scholar Jadele McPherson told "Latino USA."
La Lupe Personified Resilience
Creative Producer, Philanthropist, and Publicist Janice Torres-Perez with La Lupe albums ISM
A fierce performer with a powerful voice, La Lupe embodied a particular sensuality on stage that drew admiration and criticism. She would regularly "improvise lyrics, change styles, tear her dress up, pull her hair, moan her trademark cry of 'ayyy yiyiyí,' clutch her breasts and push the pianist to go faster and faster," documentarian Ela Troyano wrote for Fania Records, the boogaloo and salsa label that acquired Puente's Tico Records.
As salsa rose to prominence La Lupe was sidelined, the Guardian noted. Celia Cruz, a powerful and unique voice in her own right but a less provocative act, became the Queen of Salsa.
Still, La Lupe "never gave up. She was never fake. She was always her authentic self," Rodriguez says. "She doesn't care what people think about her. She goes off, she takes off her shoes, and she does what she does, whatever she feels.
"I've noticed that a lot of the females that talk about La Lupe like her because of her strength and her tenacity, and that's why she's important to the culture," he continues.
La Lupe Remained Her Own Advocate For Decades
La Lupe's daughter, Rainbow “La Yoli” Garcia, with a letter her mother wrote┃ISM
Although she performed at Madison Square Garden in '77, La Lupe's career was a shell of its vibrant self by the decade's end. Her personal life was also in shambles, but she continued to stump for herself and her artistry.
The ISM exhibit featured a form letter that La Lupe sent to promoters and club owners asking for gigs because the industry had pushed her aside. "She's writing to them in English saying, 'Give me a shot. I have a new show.' She's saying, 'I want to go back into show business,'" Rodriguez notes.
In the mid-'80s, La Lupe met an evangelist at a hospital and later became an ordained Pentecostal minister and preacher (she previously practiced Santeria). She died of a heart attack in 1992.
Although La Lupe's work and story have received renewed attention, the issues she faced as an artist with a strong perspective and style remain largely unchanged.
"We see a lot more females in the artistic world now, but it should be more. There should be more opportunities," Rodriguez says. "She was going at it at a time where you barely saw women in salsa. Even to this very day, you still don't see many women in salsa, and that's not the way that it should be."
Tito Puente Was Meticulous — With Himself And Others
International Salsa Museum Co-Founder Willy Rodriguez┃ISM
Today, Tito Puente is synonymous with Latin music of the 1950s and '60s, becoming known as the "King of Mambo." The six-time GRAMMY winner had a decades-long career, was the go-to person for salsa legends, and continued to write and perform through the 1990s. Puente was known for his work ethic, and was active in the music industry until his death in 2000.
"He was very meticulous with the way he did things, with the way he directed the bands," says Rodriguez, who is the musical director for Tito Puente Jr.'s band. "If you were bad or did something not-so-good on stage, he would let you go and call somebody else. There was always another person that would want to play in his band."
Tito Puente Had Multiple Honorary Doctorates, Among Many Other Awards
Several of Tito Puente's many awards ┃Jessica Lipsky
Tito Puente traveled the world, performing in dozens of countries and receiving multiple awards. His last (and posthumous) GRAMMY win came at the 2001 GRAMMYs, where his collaboration with Eddie Palmieri, Obra Maestra, earned a golden gramophone for Best Salsa Album.
Among his many honors, Puente received honorary doctorates from Columbia University and Berklee College of Music.
He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2003, Puente received a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy.
Tito Puente Handwrote And Numbered His Sheet Music
Tito Puente's sheet music┃Jessica Lipsky
Tito Puente numbered each of his musical charts and by the 1950s, was already on his 265th composition. On display is the chart for "Tito Timbero" and his timbale mallets.
"This was one of his first original songs that made him famous," Rodriguez notes.
Puente Kept His Contracts
An appearance contract┃Jessica Lipsky
While many musicians were subject to flimsy contracts and meager pay, Tito Puente kept meticulous records. The ISM pop-up had several of Puente's contracts on display from 1965, for which the musician made between $600 and $1,000 per engagement.
"His oldest son was telling me that back in the day, you could do a lot with that amount of money," Rodriguez notes.
Adjusted for inflation, Puente would be making between $5,800 and $9,700 per gig today.
Salsa Is A Family Legacy
Tito Puente Jr. and Rainbow "La Yoli" Garcia┃ISM
Puente’s son Tito Puente Jr. and La Lupe’s daughter, Rainbow “La Yoli” Garcia, reunited at the International Salsa Museum pop-up and were heavily involved in its curation. As Rodriguez explains, the exhibit is ideally just the beginning of honoring legacies in the way this one did.
"[Once] we share the story about the legends, how do we keep this culture moving forward?" Rodriguez questions." It's our motto; it's our mission statement: Preserving the past, educating the present, influencing the future."
ISM's team hopes to raise enough capital to open up a museum at the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory, where they will build teaching recording studios for youth and adult producers and musicians
"The only way we're going to move forward is by creating," Rodriguez adds. "We don't move forward by recycling the same songs; we have to create."
Photo: Mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images
Celebrating Tito Puente's Centennial: 10 Essential Songs By The Mambo King
Born Ernest Anthony Puente Jr in 1923, Tito Puente has brought to the world some of the most exciting sounds of modern Latin Music — GRAMMY.com shines light on 10 must-hear songs by the King of Mambo.
Born and raised in Harlem, New York, Tito Puente follows a lineage of musicians who have pushed Latin American sounds to the future while holding onto traditional forms and century-old rhythms. There aren't many who could handle the burden of moving forward with an eye on the rearview mirror, but Puente, a son of immigrants, did it gracefully. Whether playing his famous, devilish timbales and his ever-precise vibraphones or arranging multiple orchestras sections, from brass to drums, Tito was a key-figure in shaping Latin American modern music in the U.S. and across the world.
Puente's life was intertwined with music from an early age. First a piano student (his mom enrolled him in a 25 cent class) and then a teenage dancer who loved drumming, he always showed a knack for going beyond reading music scores or reproducing the same old standards. In Tito Puente and the Making of Latin Music, ethnomusicologist Steven Loza, the six-time GRAMMY winner recalled mixing "jazz and Latin music all the time while I was a young kid, you know, studying."
A talented kid who was used to playing at every impromptu stage in Spanish Harlem and who got the chance to attend the Juilliard School of Music, Tito's credentials were solid by the early 1950s when he first started his professional career. From then on, the maestro enlisted in several projects, recordings, and collaborations. It didn't take long for him to become synonymous with the modern Latin Music that was beaming out of the Latino diaspora in the States. In the 1950s and '60s, Puente helped to shape a melting pot of identities that found common ground on the dance floor.
Tito was the go-to person for the likes of Celia Cruz or La Lupe and an inspirational figure for musicians such as Carlos Santana. Even during the '80s and '90s, he didn't quit touring and writing new music. Sones, montunos, boleros, merengues, salsas, cha cha chas, rumbas, and mambos: there's only so much Puente could carry in his bag, but he made a lot by reassembling all of these cards into more than a hundred albums, countless performances, and several all-time songs.
Tito Puente passed away in 2000, yet his legacy in Latin music continues unabated. In honor of his centennial birthday on April 20, GRAMMY.com revisits 10 essential songs in Tito Puente's canon.
"Oye Mi Guangancó" (1956)
Cuban Carnival is one of the first albums by Puente fully dedicated to celebrating Cuba's musical plethora — a diverse landscape of claves and patterns where he laid the foundations of his own work.
"Oye Mi Guagancó" revamps the traditional guagancó, a strain of the complex rumba family, demonstrating his innovative approach early on. Instead of reproducing the genre's essential form, Puente uses the different sections of the song as modules and blends percussion and brass with fine artistry: breakdowns free the way for his timba to shine while saxophones and trumpets wander through melodies and countermelodies that fit each other.
"Mambo Gozon" (1958)
Dance Mania was a club banger of its time. Released in 1958, the album unleashed a multicolored palette of Latin America-through-New York music with the sounds of Puente's youth wandering Spanish Harlem and sneaking into jazz clubs.
Tito Puente applied his theoretical learnings from Juilliard in clubs such as the Palladium Ballroom, where he quickly mastered the Afro-Cuban fast-paced, counter-metric heir of montunos that would make him a king: mambo. The genre represented a pivotal point, allowing Puente to arrange, conduct and perform creatively while making the crowd dance.
One of the highlights of this time, "Mambo Gozon" features flaring and poly melodic horns, rattling marimbas and scrapping guiras, chorus and ad-libs melded together into a single and ordered mess.
"Oye Como Va" (Live w/ El Canario) (1962)
Few songs have embraced so much of the Latin American spirit in popular music as "Oye Como Va." Released in the early '60s, this song was covered and revisited by a number of artists all across the world, from Santana's dreamy guitars to SoundCloud club-made remixes.
Showcasing his resourceful and inventive arranging skills, Puente imagined an ostinato piano (the guajeo pattern) that creates a cyclical build-up alongside horns and vocals filling up voids with an irresistible sing-along type of melody. The outcome is a genre-bending and yet straightforward take on cha cha cha — another of the several Cuban music genres that fueled Tito's orchestrations, which are reminiscent of Arcaño y sus Maravillas' "Chanchullo" to and the Champs' "Tequila."
In this live performance with Dominican singer Jose Alberto 'El Canario', whose flute-like whistle is nothing but amazing, Puente plays at ease — he knows this song is the strongest card in his pocket.
"El Mambo Diablo" (1963)
Historically, especially in Eurocentric cultures, percussion has played a supporting role in music — from their position behind the band to the fact that bandleaders are usually guitarists, pianists, singers. Tito Puente is amongst the most important artists in the world to have given percussion the weight it deserves, doing so with the help of timbales and also vibraphones, his second home.
In this live recording of "El Mambo Diablo," a young Tito showcases his skills as both instrumentalist and bandleader, moving swiftly from the main theme to a powerful crescendo and yelling to signal changes to his musicians. For Puente, percussion takes center stage.
"La Guarachera" with Celia Cruz (1966)
Celia Cruz, alongside La Lupe, stands out as one of the most remarkable female vocalists to have shared the frontstage with Puente. By the late '60s, Tito had already established himself as an eminent figure in the making of traditional Cuban music. This was when he first collaborated with Cruz, and their partnership continued for over a decade.
In "La Guarachera," Puente masterfully blends a frenzied mambo section into the typical guaracha form and engages in a thrilling call-and-response game with Cruz. As they challenge each other, Puente's timbas sound like vocals. This recording is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and iconic crossovers between Puerto Rican and Cuban music.
Fania All Stars - "Sabor Sabor" (1968)
If Tito Puente has formalized the wide, diverse Latin music idiom in the U.S., Fania Records did the same for salsa. The New York-based label transformed that club music that soundtracked frenzy nights for Latin, brown and Black youth dance into world-famous records — and have never left the dancefloor.
Fania All Stars, a dynamic big band featuring the label's top talent, including Salsoul's founder Joe Bataan, percussionist extraordinaire Ray Barreto, and Puente himself, is a testament to the label's incredible influence. Puente plays a supporting role on "Sabor Sabor," expertly setting the rhythmic pace that drives pianist Eddie Palmieri's feverish and incisive keystrokes.
"Que Falta Tu Me Haces" (1977)
Just like many of his peers, an early career Puente had to master a large repertoire of ballroom classics — from old-time sons, to newly arrived bossa nova tunes and boleros. All the drama and melancholy surrounding this genre seem odd to Tito's oeuvre.
But even in such an immense collection of upbeat and festive tracks, there's room for some sadness. In the 1977 album The Legend, the composer and arranger goes back to his origins with the wholehearted and bittersweet "Que Falta Tu Me Haces." Alongside Santos Cólon, another of his long-time collaborators, Puente delivers enticing vibraphone lines, an unusual element to bolero's deepness that fits in smoothly.
"Take Five" (1985)
Every jazz musician knows that standards not only provide a common ground for mingling and getting into the mood, but also offer an opportunity to show off and shine amongst peers. Tito Puente's rendition of Paul Desmond's timeless classic is a prime example of this.
Instead of the original song's odd 5/4 stride, Puente opts for a seemingly easier 4/4 pattern. However, it's precisely this welcoming arrangement that allows the maestro to showcase his creativity and take center stage. In his tasteful, upbeat take on "Take Five," Puente leaves ample room for his Latin Ensemble's individual talents to shine. And as the song draws to a close, Puente unleashes a multi-layered, fast-paced timba solo. It's like a minimal, swingy Art Blakey proving that, sometimes, less is more.
"Guajira Soul" (1988)
The relevance of Puente's work cannot be measured solely within the Latin American region and its diaspora. His work has had an impact across different genres, from rock to jazz, by forging sonic connections from the Caribbean to the rest of the world.
On 1988's Salsa meets Jazz, Tito collaborated with jazz saxophonist Phil Woods and revisited the works of legends like Dizzy Gillespie in "Con Alma."
Rather than replicating these masters or imitating the jazz idiom, Puente incorporated the trends and sounds of the '70s and '80s, from fusion to electric organs, demonstrating that there is more Latin music in jazz than one might imagine. His "Guajira Soul" is an excellent example of his skillful vibraphone playing in conversation with Mario Rivera's lively flute melodies.
"Mambo Kings Solo (Timbalero)" with Cesar Castillo (1992)
Tito Puente's influence on popular culture extends far beyond the realm of music. By the late 1980s, the legendary musician had already toured the world, earned GRAMMYAwards, and achieved recognition as the godfather of Latin modern music from North to South America.
A film appearance was just the icing on the cake. His character in the movie Mambo Kings is more than a cameo. Puente portrays himself as a talented musician who lends a helping hand to the Castillo brothers, who have left their hometown of Havana in search of opportunities in New York City. Multi-awarded actor Armand Assante is Carlos, who joins Tito into an impromptu timba jam (or descarga, in Cuban Spanish) in "Timbalero." The frantic and yet short-lived session reaches out to a deadly climax that couldn't be opposite to the joy of the song while embodying all of its energy.