Tito Puente Jr. Carries On His Father’s Legacy in San Diego: A Ritmo Bello Interview

Monday, August 31, 2009

If you’ve been a part of the salsa and Latin jazz music scene for a while I have no doubt you’d recognize Tito Puente.  Known throughout the world as “El Rey” (the King) of the timbales and “The King of Latin Music,”  Tito Puente left an incredible legacy of Latin jazz and mambo music.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Tito Puente Jr. continues that great musical tradition and brings new life to Latin jazz and mambo today.  Tito Puente Jr. will be performing live in San Diego on September 5th at Anthology in downtown’s Little Italy district.  Ritmo Bello was fortunate enough to connect with Tito Puente Jr. before his upcoming San Diego show and talk with him a bit about him being the standard bearer of Latin jazz royalty.


Ritmo Bello: Tito Puente Jr., thanks for taking time to the talk to the Ritmo Bello readers about yourself and your music.  Let’s begin with a question I’m sure you get all the time.  How has being the son of the famous Tito Puente affected your decision to pursue a musical career for yourself?

Tito Puente Jr.: Music was always a part of me growing up, but by choice – my father never forced it on me. Of course, being my father’s son poses challenges in the sense that it’s next to impossible to follow or match such an incredible talent, so I’m very clear that my mission is not to try and compete, it’s simply to entertain audiences and carry the torch of my father’s music to a new generation of people.

Ritmo Bello: When and how did you begin your own musical career?

Tito Puente Jr.: I started in the mid 1980’s surrounding myself with all types of music growing up in New York City, where there were so  many influences. Professionally I started on the trap drum kit when I was 16 years of age, working in different nightclubs in Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.

Ritmo Bello: It’s clear that you are often compared to your father, Tito Puente and his musical style.  For those unfamiliar with Tito Puente can you explain how you might be similar and different to his legacy?

Tito Puente Jr.:  I think of course one blatant similarity is that I look a lot like him! I seem to have a connection with older fans that were fans of his and to younger ones as well. I have a certain quirkiness about me when I’m performing that people seem to enjoy. I dance and sing like my father did when he was younger in the 1950s, but I give it a modern edge, like a taste of Latino classic and urban mixed up with cha cha and mambo…

Ritmo Bello: How and where do you find inspiration for creating new music?

Tito Puente Jr.:  My father taught me to always surround myself with creative people, as they will serve as inspiration…it works.

Ritmo Bello:     I know that you have collaborated and performed with many notable artists in the salsa and Latin jazz world.  What are your most memorable performances that you’ve had over the course of your career?

Tito Puente Jr.: Well, I’ve been fortunate to have many: Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Celia Cruz and José Feliciano come to mind. But I think the most influential would have been with my father himself – being on stage together.

Ritmo Bello:   Can you tell me a little about the albums that you’ve released to date?

Tito Puente Jr.:  I’ve had three major label releases to date but the most exciting is my new album coming out next month entitled “Got Mambo?”. It’s a really exciting project where I step up my game with original material and some great guest artists like Jon Secada and others.

Ritmo Bello:    Are there current plans for new CD releases coming up soon?

Tito Puente Jr.:  “Got Mambo?” is scheduled for a late October release, along with a new music video, tour and the whole internet promotion scene.

Ritmo Bello: I know that you, like your father, are a master at percussion and in particular the timbales.  What is it about this particular instrument that excites you the most?  Are there other instruments that you feel comfortable performing with as well?

Tito Puente Jr.:  I have to correct you – I am a student of percussion, not at all a master percussionist. I would hope through practice and time I could be. My father was a “master.”

Timbales have a distinct sound in all aspects of music plus it gives an engine to any song. I also enjoy piano and bass.

Ritmo Bello:   On a side note, I know that you’ve expanded into different enterprises including acting as the official spokesperson for Havanera Co., a clothing line I absolutely love to wear myself.   How has this and other experiences outside of your music affected your musical career?

Tito Puente Jr.:  In today’s world attaching yourself to a brand is important. I like to be a part of certain brands which can help bring our Latin music to the masses. The consumer is looking for more now. Branding and endorsing certain products and items has helped me bring my music to other parts of the globe.

Ritmo Bello:   My first contact with you was via Twitter and I was impressed to find you using the medium to reach out to your fans.  How has social media like Twitter and Facebook impacted how you interact with your fan base?

Tito Puente Jr.:  Amazing how Twitter and Facebook has gotten me directly in touch with the fans. It’s the new millennium of marketing and promotion for any artist out there. And yes it’s really me responding to you!!!

Ritmo Bello:   Although I know that you perform great music, do you ever get an opportunity to dance to salsa or Latin music as well?

Tito Puente Jr.:  I do, at home in front of my kids because that way I will look silly for them and not the rest of the world. I have great rhythm in my blood but it doesn’t seem to travel to my feet that well.

Ritmo Bello:    I’ve heard that you’ve also given back to the community in a number of ways.  Can you share with me some of the fundraising events you’ve supported?

Tito Puente Jr.:  The cancer, leukemia, diabetes and AIDS foundations are the ones closest to my heart since I have people and personal friends who have these horrible diseases. I love animals as well so give back wherever I can for them.

Ritmo Bello:   Is there anything else you’d like to share with the San Diego salsa and Latin dance community that we haven’t covered yet?

Tito Puente Jr.:  Get ready to mambo and cha cha the night away on September 5th at Anthology…and bring your dancing shoes!

Ritmo Bello:  Do you have contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo Bello audience wants to contact you?

Tito Puente Jr.www.facebook.com/titopuentejr




Ritmo Bello: Tito Puente Jr., it has been an honor to talk to you today.  On behalf of the San Diego salsa dance community and Ritmo Bello thank you for your time!

Tito Puente Jr.:  Muchas gracias and thank you to all the Tito Puente fans and the new Tito Puente, Jr. fans…I’m looking forward to seeing everyone!

John F. Bello

Meet John ;-)

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