Happy Birthday, El Rey! 10 Fiery Tito Puente Cuts

Tito Puente on vibraphone at the Palladium. i i

Tito Puente on vibraphone at the Palladium. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist
Tito Puente on vibraphone at the Palladium.

Tito Puente on vibraphone at the Palladium.

Courtesy of the artist
La Santa Cecilia performs a Tiny Desk Concert in November 2013. i i

La Santa Cecilia performs a Tiny Desk Concert in November 2013. Meredith Rizzo/Meredith Rizzo/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Meredith Rizzo/Meredith Rizzo/NPR
La Santa Cecilia performs a Tiny Desk Concert in November 2013.

La Santa Cecilia performs a Tiny Desk Concert in November 2013.

Meredith Rizzo/Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Celebrating the late Tito Puente's birthday gives us a chance to revel in his mid-1950s RCA years. Backed by major label money, the King of Latin Music was able to realize the sounds he heard in his head on bandstands and in recording studios.

This meant big band dance music, agile soneros whose improvised vocals complimented the bands and small-group percussion experiments.

We asked percussionist Miguel Ramirez of the Grammy-winning band La Santa Cecilia to pick 10 of his favorite tracks from that very fertile time for the bandleader, who was born on this day in 1923 and died in 2000.

For more great Latin music in all styles, head to NPR Music's Alt.Latino radio channel.

Ti Mon Bo

MIGUEL RAMIREZ: I chose "Ti Mon Bo" because — after bongos and congas set the scene — it is pure Tito Puente timbale awesomeness! With percussion, the language of the inflection, tone and attack and the combinations of what you can come up with on very limited instruments are amazing. Tito was a genius at this! As percussionists, we all still try to play his licks.

Mambo Diablo

MIGUEL RAMIREZ: Tito was an amazing vibraphone player as well. I love the montuno he plays on "Mambo Diablo!"

Four Beat Cha Cha

MIGUEL RAMIREZ: I love the sound and tones on this song! I miss how awesome the bongos sound on these recordings.

Elegua Chango

MIGUEL RAMIREZ: Santeria plays such a key role in the lives of most salseros and rumberos. This is a beautiful tribute to that.

El Cayuco

MIGUEL RAMIREZ: This is just classic!

Oye Mi Guaguanco

MIGUEL RAMIREZ: This one, like all of Tito's songs, was played as tight as can be! Swinging like no one's business! Salseros refer to this as playing "afincado." It is amazing how he wrote every part as if it were one giant percussion ensemble.

Ran Kan Kan

MIGUEL RAMIREZ: Love the breaks! The syncopation is great! He was a genius composer and arranger. #MamboKing!

Agua Limpia Todo

MIGUEL RAMIREZ: The title is akin to common wisdom throughout Latin America. Water cleans all things both literally and metaphorically — in this case even the poisonous tongues of gossipers.

Cuando Te Vea

MIGUEL RAMIREZ: This coro is one of the best of all time! Every salsero knows it.

Pa' Los Rumberos

MIGUEL RAMIREZ: This high-energy song influenced musicians as well as dancers. It still gets me every time!

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