Tito Puente - timbales, composer, vocals; Charlie Palmieri - organ, piano; Paul Bogosian - trumpet; Tony Confresi - trumpet; Manuel Santos - trumpet; Dave Tucker - trumpet; Sam Burtis - trombone; David Taylor - trombone; Lewis Kahn - trombone; David Earl Taylor - bass trombone; Peter Fanelli - alto sax; Don Palmer - alto sax, soprano sax; Dick Meza - tenor sax; Sal Nistico - tenor sax, clarinet; Rene McLean - baritone sax; Israel "Izzy" Feliu - bass; Ray Romero - bongos; Luis "Madamo" Diaz - conga; Mike Collazo - drums; Miguel "Menique" Barcasnegras - vocals; Yayo el Indio - background vocals; Vitín Avíles - background vocals
Appearing on a quadruple bill featuring Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, salsa pioneer Tito Puente enthralled listeners at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island with his catchy brand of Latin jazz and dance-oriented mambo. The flamboyant bandleader and timbales player, who would become a recognizable figure in the States for his frequent television appearances on The Cosby Show, Sesame Street and even The Simpsons, was a beloved figure on the international music scene who was as much an ambassador for salsa as Ellington was for jazz.
Puente opens his set with a complex, rhythmically-charged interpretation of Manuel de Falla's "Ritual Fire Dance," which shifts into an infectious clave-fueled romp midway through. Next up is Puente's signature tune, "Oye Como Va," a tumbao-flavored number he wrote in 1963 and which Carlos Santana subsequently popularized with his Latin rock rendition on his band's 1970 album, Abraxas. Charlie Palmieri (brother of another salsa legend, Eddie Palmieri) is featured stretching out on organ on the driving Noro Morales tune "110th Street and 5th Avenue." They next head into the rousing guaguanco number "Nina y Señora" and Puente closes out his first appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival with a show-stopping display of timbales playing on the exhilarating "El Rey del Timbal," which has him creating a churning groove alongside bongo player Ray Romero and conga player Luis "Madamo" Diaz.
Born Ernesto Antonio Puente on April 20, 1923, he grew up in the Spanish Harlem section of New York City. At age 13, he began working in Ramon Olivero's big band as a drummer. After serving in the Navy for three years during World War II, he studied music at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music on the GI Bill. After forming his first bands, Puente rose to the height of his popularity during the 1950s, bringing Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds like mambo, son, cha-cha-cha and rumba to mainstream audiences at venues like the Palladium in New York City and through recordings on the Fania and RCA labels. Among the congueros who played with the Puente band during its heyday were Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, Johnny Pacheco, and Ray Barretto.
In later years, Puente expanded his musical horizon, tackling big band jazz, bossa nova and boogaloo. He recorded frequently through the '80s and '90s for the Concord Picante and RMM labels. His 100th album, 1991's The Mambo King, was a milestone that included a guest appearance by his old Palladium colleague, vocalist Celia Cruz. Puente died on June 1, 2000 and was posthumously awarded the Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in 2003. (Milkowski)