Playlist: Classic Puente, Classic Mambo
What better way to spend the Fourth of July than by celebrating a true American revolutionary: Tito Puente. Join The Mambo Legends Orchestra as they revive the golden age of mambo and conjure the spirit of the Palladium Ballroom, which broke down barriers in the name of dance. Mambo Legends co-leader and sax/flute soloist Mitch Frohman, who spent more than two decades playing with "El Rey," introduces us to a few mambo highlights from the massive Tito Puente catalog.
Mitch Frohman: Here is a "general" playlist of classic Tito Puente recordings that demonstrate the unique sound of his composing, arranging, playing, and the style of his orchestra. Of course there are hundreds of songs that could be added, but for this playlist I'm focusing on the classic mambo style of the Tito Puente Orchestra. (His countless cha-cha and bolero classics could be included on future playlists, as they each merit their own.) I feel extremely fortunate to have performed all of these classics during my 25 years playing saxophone and flute around the world with Tito Puente. It's the best education I could have asked for.
Some of these songs are original compositions and some are Tito Puente's version of legendary Afro-Cuban classics. Some are with vocals, some are "mambo-jazz" instrumentals that demonstrate the incredible fusion of jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms that Tito Puente was so famous for. Back in the day, audiences danced to both the commercial-sounding mambos and the jazzier Afro-Cuban instrumentals. As Tito would figuratively say about his earlier years at the Palladium Ballroom: "There were no ethnic groups then. Everybody got up and danced. They all loved our Latin rhythms!"
Mitch Frohman is the saxophone/flute soloist and co-leader of The Mambo Legends Orchestra. For 25 years he played with the Tito Puente Orchestra, and he has played and recorded with many of the greatest musicians in the world.
Note: The original image at the top of this article was first published by Felix Contreras on NPR.org in "Tito Puente: 90 Years of Getting People to Dance" (April 20, 2013).