by Bobby Sanabria

After recording one of his favorite albums, the 1961 live recording, Puente in Hollywood, for Norman Granz's GNP label, Tito Puente returned to the friendly environment of his former company Tico. The sixties would be years of achievement and recognition for Puente. He would make the first of several trips to Japan, where he would be instrumental in popularizing Latin music. In 1967 Tito would perform a program of his compositions at The Metropolitan Opera. In 1968 he would host his own show, The World of Tito Puente, on Hispanic TV and serve as Grand Marshall of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. In 1969 Tito would receive the key to the city of New York from Mayor John Lindsay. Tito maintained a busy recording schedule during the 1960s, recording a string of recordings with vocalists Celia Cruz and La Lupe.

Salsa and Santana

Some time during the early 1970s, the music Tito was playing came to be known as Salsa. Like other musicians of his generation, Tito has trouble with the label. "Salsa means sauce, literally; it's just a commercial term for Afro-Cuban dance music which was used promote the music. My idea is that we don't play sauce, we play music, and Latin music has different styles: cha-cha, mambo, guaguanco, and son. Salsa doesn't address the complexities and the rich history of the music that we play. But it's become accepted now and it helped to get music promoted."

The early 1970s also saw the meteoric rise of Carlos Santana and his unique blend of Latin rhythm, blues, and rock. Santana's cover version of Puente's classic composition "Oye Como Va" (recorded originally by Tito in 1962) on the Abraxas album introduced a whole new generation to Tito's music. [1971 live performance of “Oye como va” by Santana’s Band http://youtu.be/q3XSXvas7wY; original Puente version of “Oye como va” http://youtu.be/ZFpCALtVUcE.] Santana III included another Puente classic, "Para Los Rumberos," which he recorded in 1965. [Santana interpretation of Puente’s “Para los rumberos” http://youtu.be/x3jGQxHM85o.] Both tunes became cult hits, receiving national airplay and stimulating renewed worldwide interest."

New York's Roseland Ballroom was the site of the first meeting of Santana and Puente in March of 1977. Pablo Guzman, who covered the concert dance for the Village Voice, described the event: "Tito Puente opened his set with "Salsa y Sabor" (an up-tempo guaracha), a dancer's challenge moving at the speed of the #4 IRT subway between 86th and 125th Streets...the folks went wild." Guzman continued, describing Tito as, "the consummate showman, waving his timbale sticks over his head like a baton to cue the band. He is the Muhammad Ali of Latin music, complete with shuffle and rope a dope. After 40 years, when faced with a challenge, the old man can still put it all together."

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Originally from Latin Percussion. | Reprinted by permission from Latin Percussion.
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