Ernesto Antonio Puente, better known as Tito Puente, was born and raised in New York, but he never forgot his background, roots, and culture of Puerto Rico. The King of Latin Music would have turned 90 years old on Saturday, April 20.
This year, Sony Music Latin is honoring Tito Puente with the release of a limited edition of Tito Puente: Quatro – The Definite Collection, a 5-CD / 5-LP and digital box set (both now available). Each component includes some of the best musical works of the Latin jazz legend, one who truly placed Latin music on the map.
Campus Circle conducted a phone interview with the set’s curator and producer Anthony Gonzalez, who also is a Sony Music Latin A&R executive. Gonzalez, based in Miami, talked about the concept of Quatro, memories and the before and after eras of Tito Puente, among other things.
Campus Circle: This release has been 10 years in the making, but tow did the concept of this set come about?
Anthony Gonzalez: I always wanted to pay homage to him one way or another. I just didn't want to do another 'Greatest Hits.' I think it's one of those crazy things that happen in our business one too many times. I think the title 'Greatest Hits' should be barred, but that's just my own personal issue. I wanted to pay homage to him. Of course I can't; he's not around. Maybe if eight years ago I would've been in a position to say, ‘Hey Tito, I want to record you or I want to produce a record for you.’ Maybe that could've happened. That said, I just wanted to pay homage to him for the great contribution to Latin music, to jazz, to rock and roll. There are so many genres that he was so influential to. I really had to dig deep because I wanted to do it in the most respectful and honorable way to him and in a very musical way too because I wanted it to reflect his musical contribution. I wanted it to be so that a fan could hear what that influence is and where it came from. I had to dig deep and listen to everything, and then it just came to me. There were four albums that really stuck out. They laid out the foundation for his career in my opinion and for many styles that came afterwards in Latin music and Latin jazz. Those four albums were the bedrock for what was to come years later.
CC: What's the biggest memory you have of Tito Puente?
AG: Watching him on TV as a child. Even before I started playing music, just seeing this guy beating on these drums, which at the time I didn't even know what they were called. He just made it look really easy.
CC: Bobby Sanabria has been quoted saying that there were two periods of Latin music and jazz music: before Tito Puente and after. Do you agree?
AG: I totally agree with Bobby. He managed to somehow cook the right stew. You can have all the right ingredients by your side and toss them into the pot, but it doesn't mean that it will end up tasting well. He just knew the right does of this and a little bit of that, and he worked hard at it. It wasn't a fluke. He worked hard at it and developed it, and he continued working on it right up until the day he passed.
CC: This would've been his 90th year of existence. If alive and health permitting, do you think he would still be involved with music in any way, shape or form?
AG: I think he would…I think he would've still been playing and touring and making TV appearances; he had so much energy.
CC: Did Tito Puente’s energy come from his passion for music or was it simply just him?
AG: I think it's a little bit of both. I think he had a God-given gift – that he was born that way, and he was just full of drive and energy. On the other end, once he was committed, he was committed to himself and to music, and he made sure that it would sound right. And he was very particular about that. It needed to be right. He wouldn't offer anything less if you went to see him live or picked up any of his albums.
CC: Would you say this release is the biggest event in Latin music this year?
AG: I have to say that I'm extremely grateful for the reception it's gotten. When you work on something as extensively as this, we all want it to be well-received and appreciated because it is the efforts of our work. But it has been very humbling to see the reaction from Tito's fans, music fans, percussionists. They're just really enamored with the project, how it was designed and how it was delivered.
CC: Why should the public check out this particular release?
AG: This project was done for the love of Tito and his contributions. If it's a younger generation, they'll be discovering Tito. They'll be discovering new music, new art forms, new styles and listening to new things. They'll also get to see where certain things came from and where things are going, and with Tito being as influential as he was, it might provide some answers to the younger generation who didn't know much about him or his music, or maybe never listened to his recordings. And to his fans out there, they can enjoy his music and his contributions. I would like for his music to be around for many years to come, and I hope that someone will pick up where I left off and continue the momentum from there.
CC: Anything else you would like to add?
AG: I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I did putting it together. I hope it motivates some people to go out and buy a turntable. It's become a novelty piece nowadays but listening to the vinyl recordings is a new experience. You'll enjoy them all over again and get to experience them in a much different dimension.
Tito Puente: Quatro – The Definite Collection is now available.