A Musical Tribute to Tito Puente

Ray Carrion and The Latin Jazz All Stars perform a salute to the King of Timbales, live, for one night only

By Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: September 27, 2011

A Musical Tribute to Tito Puente

One of my earliest music memories was my mom playing 78's & 33's (vinyl records) by Joe Houston and Lionel Hampton, and a red, clear, see thru vinyl 45 by some guy named Tito Puente‘«™.

I remember Joe Houston's "All Night Long"‘«™I still play it on my radio shows or at DJ gigs, don't remember the Lionel Hampton song titles, but I clearly remember the Tito Puente 45 entitled "I Get a Kick Out of You"‘«™. it had percussion, xylophone, piano, and brass, and the name and melody has stuck to my insides ever since.

We had one of those big, one speaker Zenith Hi-Fi's in my house, and it sounded pretty good when I played it, but the S-O-U-N-D came to life on my Tio Manuel's new Heath Kit, mail order, home assembly, Direct Sound Stereo, circa 1959-62 .

My Tio Manuel was a trend setter for his time. While most of the Chicano adults in my childhood listened to Big Band, early R & B, Rancheras, Mariachi, and early Rock & Roll, my Tio Manuel kicked back to Jazz and the East Coast Latin Jazz sounds.

I used to visit and sneak through his collection of 33 rpm LP albums by Cal Tjader, Lionel Hampton, Perez Prado, Tito Rodriguez, and of course, the immortal TITO PUENTE. He introduced me to FM radio ‘«™and the smooth, deep Jazz & Latin Jazz stereo sounds that vibrated through the floor of his second story den up in East L.A.'s City Terrace‘«™as a young kid, I was enthralled by it all.

Tito Puente was "boss" and "cool" and "tuff"‘«™.

Before I ever heard the Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald Broadway show-type English version of "I Get a Kick Out of You," I heard it first by Tito Puente at my Tio Manuel's.

To this day, I can't find that one anywhere‘«™..and nobody plays like Tito.

Before EL CHICANO made it an anthem in 1970, I heard Tito Puente jamming "El Cayuco".

Before Carlos Santana ever did it, my family members were dancing to "Oye Como Va" by Tito Puente.

I never got a chance to ever see Tito perform live, but did get a chance to see him in the movie "Mambo Kings" with Armand Asante, Celia Cruz, and Antonio Banderas .

To this day, a live recording I have on CD of Tito doing "Oye Como Va" brings out dancers whenever I jam it at a DJ gig or party.

During a recent visit & interview with L.A. guitarist Ray Carrion of AZTECA II & EL CHICANO fame, he told me a funny story about his opportunity to play with the late. great King of Timbales:

"Like Armand Asante's character in the movie 'Mambo Kings', I had chances to be back stage and around Tito Puente during some of his performances. I kept bugging him and asking him Hey, Tito! When you gonna let me play with you?' Finally one day, I guess he got tired of me asking, and he looked me dead serious in the eye and said
'OK‘«™you gonna play with Tito‘«™but when we do 'Oye Como Va,' I no wanna hear any of that Santana crap‘«™you play it MY WAY!'‘«™I listened, did as he said, and I got to perform with one of the greatest. We became friends, and I'll never forget that honor and privilege."

Taking that memory, honor, and privilege to another level, Ray was recently invited to perform as part of a 6-part music virtuoso tribute in Hollywood ‘«™and he chose Tito Puente as his subject.

"I was simply honored to be asked, so I assembled some of the most talented Latin Jazz musicians today that I know of. Artists like Alberto Salas, Harry Kim, Arturo Valesco, George Shelby, Art Webb, George Lopez (not the comedian), Jose "Papo" Rodriguez, Victor Baez, Steve Gutierrez, George Balmaseda, and more. These are the Latin Jazz All Stars. Many of these guys also performed on stage with Tito at one time or another, so it's going to be a great tribute show," Ray tells LatinoLA.

Ray Carrion and the Latin Jazz All Stars perform their Tito Puente tribute performance for one night only at the EL FLORIDITA in Hollywood his Thursday, September 29th, starting at 9pm.

A special tribute song the late great VICTOR PANTOJA and RUDY REGALADO
will also be performed.

Admission is only $5.00! For info, tickets, and reservations, check out our Calendario listing.

LatinoLA will be there!....hope to see you there!

Editor's Note: Do you have any Tito Puente memories? Write your comments below!

About Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the Al Capone of the microphone and the Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul heard daily on Internet Radio. He is also a regular contributor to this web magazine.
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