by Bobby Sanabria

On the recommendation of the late vibraphonist Cal Tjader, Tito signed with Concord Records. Expanding on the concept of the Latin Percussion Jazz Ensemble, he added a small horn section and named the band "Tito Puente Latin Jazz Ensemble." The unit recorded a slew of successful albums, garnering two more Grammies for Mambo Diablo and On Broadway.

[“Mambo Diablo” from the Mambo Diablo Grammy winning record] Tito's artistic activities were not confined to the studio and the stage. In recent years he has appeared in several films, most notably, Woody Allen's Radio Days and Armed and Extremely Dangerous with John Candy.

In 1989 Tito garnered top percussionist honors in Downbeat's Reader Poll. In the same year, The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences honored Tito with its Eubie Award, a lifetime achievement award given in recognition of his more than fifty years of contributions to the recording industry. And, few artists have contributed more than Puente. He has recorded with virtually every major Latin and jazz artist of his day. In addition, he has worked with a wide variety of pop artists ranging from Sugar Hill Gang to Tower of Power. Tito has published more than four hundred compositions over his lengthy career.

Even if Tito had decided to do the unthinkable and retire, there still would have been Puentes to carry on the tradition. Daughter Audrey studied music production and communication at Syracuse University. Puente's younger son Tito is also a drummer. Ronald Anthony, his eldest son from a previous marriage "plays more instruments than Tito," according to Joe Conzo. Tito's wife, the former Margie Ascencio sang back up on several of her husband's albums. "It's funny" Margie states, "I met Tito at 'The Palladium' in the 60's but at the time I was a big fan of Tito Rodríguez. Ain't that a kick." Tito also completed work on a recording that featured his cousin the singer-timbalero Millie Puente.

At 67, Puente was showing no signs of slowing down. He still maintained a grueling international touring schedule. Tito was being approached by singers Frank Sinatra, Rosemarie Clooney, and Abbe Lane to record individual projects. His music was featured in Warren Beatty's upcoming film Dick Tracy. Despite all that recognition and acclaim, Tito regularly returned to his roots, performing in clubs in and around New York City. "My music has always been for dancers," he stated. "They are the ones who have supported me over the years. A wise king never neglects his subjects."

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