Jazzing It Up With Pope Puente

Tito Puente would have celebrated his 90th birthday earlier this month. He was until 2000 a living legend in the world of Latino music; hailed as ‘’The Musical Pope’’ for his energy and innovation in bringing Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds to the masses.

A Fusion Of Sound

The instrumental line-up in Puente’s compositions is foremost the prominence of the rhythm section with Latino percussion such as congos, timbales, cowbell and whistle all from which Puente leads his ensemble. Additional sections include woodwind with the flute out in front, brass of trumpet and trombone, digital piano, bass guitar and male vocals. Puente can take traditional a fusion of traditional and contemporary timbres and the outcome is a sound that just makes you want to move to the music.Tito Puente

Puente Of Talent

As a young child it was obvious from the onset that Puente had rhythm in his soul. He used to wander around the house beating anything that made a noise and formulate rhythms from it. He received digital piano lessons to channel his interest and this well-made investment later led to his deviation from the keyboard back to percussion for formal musical training.

’Oye-Como Va’ On The Digital Piano

Oye-Com Va’ was Puente’s signature Latin-Rock track and performed at numerous venues from more formal concert settings to vast public arena’s such as the 1993 JVC Newport Jazz Festival. The title of the song is often lost in translation but refers generally to ‘’Listen to my good rhythm’’. The introduction wastes no time in getting straight into the Latino stride with syncopation played tutti from Puente fronting on percussion, digital piano, and muted brass. The flautist flutter-tongues embellished delicacy around the chordal framework whilst the bass guitar plays a parallel riff to move the staggered rhythms along. Amidst the ‘’pah-pahs’’ and the rasping vocals the lyrics are clearly executed in unison and continuing with unspent energy is the jazz flute. The middle eight allows the flute to take his improvisation to the next level as the music continues and the words though endemic are almost incidental to the rhythmic cacophony. This is a wondrous exercise in stamina if nothing else! The audience are now on their feet dancing and swaying with Latino grace in the afternoon sun. The signalling of the ‘final whistle’ and gesturing hand signals from Puente sends the crowd into a frenzy as the final tutti brings closure. Loud applause ensues…

Game over Puente – good score and well played.                                                      Jr

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