by Bobby Sanabria

The following year, through the efforts of Jack Louis, a sympathetic A&R man at RCA, Puente recorded Top Percussion, his second album explored the wide melodic and rhythmic range of Afro-Cuban drumming. One side featured drummer Julito Collazo along with a chorus performing the cants and songs of Lucimi, a religion of Western African origin that took root in Cuba and then throughout Latin America where it became know as Santeria. Tito had become interested in Santeria and in later years would become an initiate of the Orisha Obatala. Top Percussion exposed a largely unknowing listening public to the inseparable nature of African religion and music and to its deep link to Latin music. 1957 also saw the release of Night Beat, Tito's sequel to the popular Puente Goes Jazz. The album featured a young trumpeter named Doc Severinsen.

The same year, through the efforts of Mario Bauza, the Cuban government would include Puente in a ceremony honoring the greatest Cuban musicians of the past fifty years, earning Tito the distinction of being the only non-Cuban to be so recognized.

In 1958 Puente recorded Dance Mania, an album featuring Santos Colón on vocals. This album, which includes such signature tunes as “Hong Kong Mambo” and “Cayuco” remains one of the highest-selling Latin albums of all time and is still a favorite of dance instructors.

Tito maintained a busy and varied recording schedule during the last decade, producing Tambo, a further delving into Afro-Cuban themes. More Dancemania, a straight dance album and big band recording with Count Basie, Woody Herman, Charlie Barnett, and Abbe Lane. In 1960, Tito collaborated with trombonist Buddy Morrow on the recording Revolving Bandstand. Tito's radical concept for the album placed two big bands, one with a Latin rhythm section, the other with a jazz rhythm section, together in the same studio. "First," Tito explained, "the jazz big band would play a tune like "Autumn Leaves" and give it their treatment, and then the Latin band would play the bridge of the tune in authentic style." The album, which wasn't released until the 1970's featured Tito's conducting and arranging skills, blending his thorough knowledge of both the Latin and jazz idioms. Revolving Bandstand would be Tito's last recording for RCA. Joe Conzo, producer and long-time Puente publicist states, "Tito recorded literally hundreds of unreleased tracks for RCA. They just never understood how great a talent they had with Tito."

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