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May 2002 Artist of the Month: Tito Puente Jr.
The Prince of Latin Dance
June 7, 2002
Tito Puente, Jr., has begun leaving a mark as an artist of distinction. With one record album and three videos to his credit, plus a slew of concert tours under his belt, Tito has become a force to be reckoned within Latin music. Determined to reach people of all generations, Tito's music is a fusion of Pop Latin Jazz and Dance, laced with influences of Mambo, Cha Cha and Merengue. Tito calls it "Latin Dance, a new explosion of authentic music created from the streets".
Now a resident of Miami, Tito Jr., of Puerto Rican descent, was born and raised in New York City. Under the tutelage of his father, "El Rey," his first instrument was percussion. Later, he attended school in Long Island where he further developed his skills as a musician while studying piano and composition at home.
When he was old enough, Tito began playing the New York City club scene with other well-known Latin artists from the area. In his current band, Tito is the lead singer and percussionist. He still plays the piano but uses it mainly for writing songs. Moreover, living in culturally diverse Miami has had a most positive effect on Tito's creativity and innovative approach to his music.
"I'm thrilled with the many faces and sounds of Miami. The opportunity to listen to music from Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and other parts of the world has allowed me to expand my own musical horizons, so my music can reach more people," says Tito.
Tito's debut album, Guarachando, which he Co-produced for the EMI-Latin label, featured the hit single "Oye Como Va" (a cover of his father's signature standard), which charted at No. 7 on Billboard's Dance chart and earned him a Latin Music Award for "Best Video of the Year."
Tito Puente, Jr., has performed in many parts of the world, but mostly in North and South America. He has been featured in magazines, newspapers and television programs such as Urban Latino, Latin Style, American Way, Reggae Report, People En Español, Radio & Musica, DMA, Billboard, The Miami Herald, Good Day New York, E! Entertainment, CBS Noticias, NBC, Canada News, Onda Max, Control, Caliente, Primer Impacto, El Gordo y La Flaca, Ocurrio Asi and has also appeared in an HBO special.
Thrilled with the support he always received from his fatherwho was known to sit in with his son's band on occasionTito plans to follow in his footsteps, creating for his generation what "El Rey" did for his own over the past 50 years. Tito continued his quest with his sophomore effort, titled "Siéntelo" (Feel It), which garnered rave reviews, with his hit "Azucar" and also with his second single "Caliente," which is a tribute to his father.
His upcoming album, Tito Puente, Jr., is due out by late summer 2002 and will feature the single "Here's to You," dedicated to his father and to the victims of September 11.
Birth Date: June 2
Birth Place: New York City, NY
Zodiac Sign: Gemini
Instruments Played: Percussion, piano, bass
Musical Influences: Tito Puente
Favorite Color: Black
Favorite Foods: Arroz con pollo
Favorite Cities: NYC
Awards & Recognitions: Billboard Latin Music Award, Keys to the cities of NY & Miami
Publishing Co & Affiliation: Let it Loose Music (BMI)
Heres to You, Tito
Tito Puente, Jr., steps into his fathers shoes, and they fit just fine.
By VIRGINIA CUETO
Tito Puente, Jr., has just come off the stage after performing his fathers classic "Ran Kan Kan" before tens of thousands of swaying, delirious Latin music fans jammed into Fort Myers Centennial Park for the citys annual Latin Jazz Fest. "Titoooo!!!!!" they cry out to him, waving Puerto Rican flags, smiling, laughing, dancing, willing him back onstage.
Despite the Florida heat and hours spent autographing copies of his CDs, Tito is relaxed, amiable, posing for pictures and flashing his fathers famous smile. "Its an honor to bring Latino culture to Southwest Florida," he says. "Thats what its all about."
But then, he's got a special place in his heart for this particular festival: His father, the late Tito Puente, was instrumental in making the Latin Jazz Festheadlined this year by Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco and José Felicianoan annual event.
While following in the footsteps of the legendary Rey del Timbal would seem a daunting proposition, for Tito Puente, Jr., it's a natural fit.
"Whatever his father had, he has," says festival organizer Robert Zarranz. "I ask people, 'Who are you coming to see?' Of course, the No. 1 answer: Celia. But then they tell me: 'We want to see Tito.' They want Tito Jr.!"
"He's a performer," says Tito's manager, Dave Martínez. "He loves to perform, loves to perform. And he's a real person. People are going to find out who Tito Puente, Jr., is. There's a new man coming out here. A guy who can really sing, and arrange, and compose," he adds.
The family and musical connection to his dad is undeniable. But there are differences between the Latin sounds of yesterday and today, and the younger Puente seems determined to bridge musical genres, experimenting with the trademark mambo and jazz rhythms of Puente Sr. and infusing them with his own rap and hip-hop beats.
With two Spanish-language albums, several Billboard dance hits and a Latin Music Award for Best Salsa Video of the Year for his cover of his father's signature standard, "Oye Como Va," under his belt, Puente Jr. is working on his first English-language album, a tribute to his father due out in late summer and featuring his original composition "Here's to You" ("Para Tí" in Spanish). Although the song is a tribute to his dad, "he's also dedicated it to all the people who died in New York. He's donating a part of the proceeds to that," says Martínez.
We sit on a bench by the river. José Feliciano has taken the stage and Tito has some time before he's due back out. Fans throng the sides of the stage and clamor for him; the media jockey for position, hoping to get a few minutes with the tanned young man who looks and acts remarkably like his famous dad. There's constant movement backstage, but he gives us his undivided attention.
HispanicOnline - Thank you very much for this interview.
Tito - No, gracias a tí, gracias a tí, me encanta, you guys are great, yo soy fanático de HispanicOnline.
HispanicOnline - Tell me about your new record.
Tito - Well, right now I got a new album, it's an English record that I'm producing, and I'm recording it up in Connecticut with a producer named Edwin Ramos. I've already got three songs done. [The album] is going to come out under my own independent label and distributed to BMG, and I hope people will respond to it; you know, it's a little bit different.
HispanicOnline - How close are you to Puerto Rico?
Tito - To Puerto Rico? Wow, very close. Well, I'm closer to the Puerto Ricans in New York, since there are more boricuas living in New York than there are on the island! But it's wonderful, it's close to my heart. I go to Puerto Rico every other month, I'm very low key over there. When I go, I go very privately to visit mi abuela, who still lives in Mayagüez.
HispanicOnline - Your family is close?
Tito - Yes, yes, my mother lives in New York, and I live in Miami and New York, also. I go back and forth all the time.
HispanicOnline - No plans to settle down yet?
Tito - No, no, nothing yet, no plans to settle down. I got my two gatos en mi casa, and that's all (laughs).
HispanicOnline - Your music. Being your father's son it's impossible not to make comparisons. But what are you like, where do you see your music in five years, in ten years?
Tito - Well, I am now performing the music of Tito Puente. I think it's very important that the youth of today understand the music of my father, la música de ayer, la música del Palladium. It's timeless music, and it always makes you dance.
HispanicOnline - I love "Caliente," by the way.
Tito - Ah, gracias, gracias, gracias (laughs). It's swinging music, my father wrote the arrangement on that, and it's wonderful. It's timeless, and I hope in five years that I'll be doing the same music de mi papá, pero al estilo de Tito Puente, Jr., my own style, a different style from my father's; so I'll be looking forward to that.
HispanicOnline - You'll be putting in a little bit of New York, the new New York?
Tito - Yes. Absolutely. There's always been a New York sound. The New York Palladium mambo has always been the sound of Tito Puentebut I add a little bit of rap, a little bit of dance music to it.
HispanicOnline - Where do you find your biggest audience? I know you'll be going to Brazil soon
Tito - Brazil, Peru, Sur América... I got a very big following in Canada! A lot of people love "Oye Como Va," my father's hit, it's been a big hit for me; and I love Miami, because Miami is a very intense city for Latin music. They like us everywhere. Nueva York is a good home for me too.
HispanicOnline - Is it different for you performing, for example here in Florida, as opposed to Canada, or anywhere else?
Tito - Oh, absolutely. Los fanáticos aquí son increíbles, muy increíbles. These people here in Southwest Florida have been so responsive you come to see the queen, el maestro Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz, the queen, el señor José Feliciano, and myselfit's an honor for me.
A lot of people want to see the new generationoh, what's Tito Jr. doing? And I am representing the Hispanic community, the Latino roots that my father founded back in the 1950s, 1960s with the mambo era, and I'm glad they're still around.
HispanicOnline - Tito Puente himself taught you the timbales?
Tito - No, actually I learned on my own. I went to school, 'cause he'd go to all the kids out there, "Go to school, learn your craft, learn your instrument." So I know how to read, write, and do notas, and líricas, y la revista, everything; it's very important to know that stuff, because a lot of time you can't get any work, especially the struggling Latino musician today. You have to know how to read and write music. It's very, very important.
HispanicOnline - Did he always encourage you? When did you know you were going to be a musician?
Tito - (laughs) Well, I have about 50 sets of timbales in the garage So I never really had a choice! (Turns serious) But he never pushed me, my mother never pushed me to play.
He brought me onstage a couple of times, and before he passed away we did a concert tour for a whole year together. It was an honor to be onstage with Tito Puente. We did "Caliente." I sang and he played timbales and I did campana. It was very much of a treat. The people that did get a chance to see Puente Jr. and Puente Sr. together had the opportunity of a lifetime.
Heres to You, Tito cont.
The first time we performed together was in Canada, the Skydome in Toronto in front of 80,000 people with Celia and la India, la princesa de la salsa. So they call me el príncipe de la música mambo, mi papa es el rey, Celia la reina, y la princesa la India. So they called it Latin Royalty Night! (laughs)
HispanicOnline - Musically, who else besides your father has had a big influence on you?
Tito - I believe Marc Anthony, and Frankie Negrón, I like the young guys of todaybut I also appreciate mister señor Pacheco, and you know, the greats, Ray Barreto, Mongo Santamaría, Patoto Valdés, the great Cuban artists. The late, great José Fajardo, a phenomenal flautista, and of course, the new flutist Nestor Torres, and of course Dave Valentín.
HispanicOnline - ¿Y los americanos?
Tito - Oh, I like Boston, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Back Street Boys - It's all fun, I love it all.
HispanicOnline - Who would you like to work with in the future that you haven't yet?
Tito - The guy that's onstage right now, his name is Mr. José Feliciano. I would be enchanted to perform with him and do a duet with him. I'd be honored. And of course with our queen Celia, which we look forward to, and Johnny Pacheco as well, but José Feliciano I talked to his manager just now and something can cook after this! Yeah, I'm excited.
HispanicOnline - You're going to let us know, right, as soon as it's going to happen?
Tito - Absolutely. Seguro, seguro.
HispanicOnline - Tell me about the scholarship.
Tito - Yes, the Tito Puente Scholarship Fund. It was founded in New York City in 1975 and it's been going on over 25 years, and I'm very happy, I'm proud to say that it's still happening strong and we're doing a beautiful scholarship fund every year, so look out for that.
HispanicOnline - Tell me about your mom, your sister.
Tito - My sister works in New York, she's a meteorologist. We're very close. My brother lives in Yonkers, New York, he's a pediatric salesman. And my mom lives up there, she takes care of my grandma.
HispanicOnline - So you're the only one carrying on the music banner?
Tito - Yes, yes, it's very good.
HispanicOnline - I like it when you wear the Puerto Rican flag.
Tito - (laughs) Well, I'm going to add the Cuban flag, too!
HispanicOnline -Would you like to send a special message to HispanicOnline visitors?
Tito - Yes, I would like to say hello to all my fans, saludos para toda la gente Latina, todos los fanáticos de Tito Puente, y Tito Puente Jr. y gracias a tí, es un honor pa' mí, yo soy el hijo de un embajador de la música latina por todo el mundo entero, and I thank each and everyone of you. Please look out for the new CD, it's coming out at the end of the summer.
HispanicOnline - Thank you, very, very much.
Tito - Gracias a tí.