THE PALLADIUM YEARS

by Bobby Sanabria

Tito Puente at the Palladium Dance HallIn 1949 Max Hyman purchased the Alma Dance Studios from Tommy Martin. The large crowds that flocked to the club when Latin music was featured had excited Hyman. He immediately erected a brightly-lit sign displaying the club's new name, The Palladium.

The Palladium provided New York City's ultra-hip dance crowd with continuous performance by Latin music's most progressive orchestras. "The Palladium was a phenomenon," states Tito, whose band became a fixture at the club. "On Wednesday nights "Killer Joe" Piro would teach the current mambo steps to the crowd. The place was a BIG melting pot," continued Tito, "Jews, Italians, Irish, Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Cubans -- you name it. Everyone was equal under the roof of the Palladium, because everyone was there to dig the music and to dance." The Palladium attracted the elite of New York's art and literary community along with a host of Hollywood stars. On any given night Sammy Davis Jr., Jackson Pollack, or Marlon Brando might be found sitting in on bongos with the Machito Orchestra.

Tito's popularity as a bandleader had skyrocketed, fueled by the release of his 78-rpm recording, “Abaniquito” (the name for the traditional rim shot phrase played on the timbale).


Tito Puente  “Abaniquito”

The track featured the exciting trumpet work of Mario Bauza with Vincentico Valdez on lead vocals and Graciela, Machito's sister, on background vocals. Tito used a conjunto setting (an ensemble featuring trumpets) in these early recordings but he would soon begin to expand the size of the band. Within a year it would include four trumpets, baritone, alto, and tenor saxes, and trombones. "I always wanted to be progressive in my writing for Latin music," states Tito. "I was inspired by my work with Machito under Mario Bauza's musical direction and by others who worked with the band like the great pianist-arranger René Hernández. The Machito Orchestra was way ahead of its time by combining Jazz and Latin. I wanted to keep that going." By 1950, Tito was churning out 78s for Tico, RCA, SMC, and Mambo Boys. Mambo was the rage. It had developed two distinct factions: the more commercially palatable sounds represented by the Xavier Cugat Orchestra and Pérez Prado, and the hybrid Afro-Cuban, jazz sound of the Machito Orchestra, Tito Puente, and the later Tito Rodríquez.

Anti-establishment beboppers like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Max Roach were making their way up the block from Birdland to the Palladium to listen to mambo. Gillespie began incorporating what he heard into his music and the exciting fusion that jazz writers came to call Cu-bop, Jazz Mambo or Cubano Jazz came into being.

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