ELEGUA-CHANGÓ – We begin this concert of Puente masterworks with a piece that pays tribute to the rhythmic roots of Afro-Cuban music, West Africa. In Nigeria, a complex religious belief system developed explaining everything in the universe through the worship of divine spirits known as orishas. Governing this principle is the concept of ache’, divine positive energy.
This religious system known as Ifá was brought to Cuba during the colonial period and in this new setting became known as Santeria because Catholic deities were used to mask their worship from the Spanish government. It flourished, along with other African based religions and their rhythms are part and parcel of everything we do in today’s popular music. For Tito, it became a source of inspiration for many of his works. This piece pays tribute to the mysterious Elegua, who is the guardian of the crossroads, who challenges us with playful glee to either choose the righteous path or the wrong one; and is the spy of Olodumare, the supreme deity, God. He is represented by the complex interplay of the saxophones playing in multiple meters built in 2, 3, 4, 6, and 12 all happening at the same time. He is frequently in the company of the mighty Changó, lord of thunder, lightening and fire, master of the dance and the drum and male sexual virility. Listen to the trumpets as they throw bolts of lightening symbolizing his power and to the trombones who display his majesty as a king while Elegua speaks with child-like glee on the trumpet with plunger mute. The piece appeared on Tito’s first full length album for RCA, Cuban Carnival in 1955. Special thanks to grad student in the jazz department at MSM and member of my own Grammy nominated big band where he plays baritone sax, Danny Rivera, for his work in giving re-birth to this complex piece.
PICADILLO – Originally titled “Arthur Murray Rumba” and released in 1949 on the SMC label, this composition is completely based on only one chord. Minimalism never sounded better. It later appeared in newer versions as “Picadillo” (shredded Cuban beef steak) as it is known today. It features the first example of a tune in Afro-Cuban music utilizing the voicing in fourths as a harmonic/melodic device - no doubt a result from Tito’s exposure to Asian culture in WW II. Andrew Neesley’s version of this Puente classic features the marimba and trombone performing parts of the melody with some great interaction between the brass and the reed section later in the chart in a full blown sax soli section. Yours truly on vibes, Christian Sylvester Sands on piano, Benjamin Britton on tenor and Daniel Jamieson on soprano sax explode on this vehicle for a classic descarga (Cuban jam session) while the coro (vocal chorus), during Dan’s solo, quotes verses from a composition by one of Tito’s influences, Arsenio Rodriguez’s Anacaona.
BOHEMIA (BIRDLAND) AFTER DARK – Another example of Tito’s genius for adaptation and his skill as an arranger. Composed by jazz bassist Oscar Pettiford in 1955, Bohemia After Dark appeared on the album “Puente Goes Jazz” in 1956. Tito grew up during the 20’s and 30’s at the height of the swing era and big bands. It’s evident in every way on this chart as one could picture a group of Lindy hoppers at the Savoy Ballroom dancing in ecstasy. When he was a child Tito studied all forms of ballroom dancing along with his sister Annie and prided himself on being a good dancer. We feature Alex Lopez on tenor, the versatile Norman Edwards on vibes, as well as Eddy Hackett on bongó, as we swing with the King.
AUTUMN LEAVES (LES FEUILLES MORTES) – Composer Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prévert created one of the songs for the film Les Portes De La Nuit by setting a Prévert poem to music, “Les Feuilles Mortes.” In 1949 Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics for the tune changing the original French title to “Autumn Leaves. Yves Montand introduced the song ‘Les Feuilles Mortes’ in the 1946 film Les Portes De La Nuit, a gloomy urban drama set in post World War II Paris. Tito would often perform this tune during a midnight set of boleros he would do when he appeared at the famed Palladium Ballroom on West 53rd street and Broadway. He creatively added a section in 6/8 meter to open and close the tune. It appears on “Tito Puente in Love” for the Tico label, a compilation of 78 RPM recordings Tito did between 1953 thru 1955. I changed the intro and outro as well as providing some cadences for the horns to play during the bridge which goes into cha-cha-cha rhythm and back to bolero. We again feature Norman Edwards on vibes who plays a beautifully blues influenced cadenza having the last word.
CUBAN NIGHTMARE – “No one has done more for Afro-Cuban music than Tito Puente and he’s not even Cuban, he’s Puerto Rican!!!”, so said Mario Bauzá, the legendary musical director of the Machito Afro-Cubans. Recorded for RCA November 28, 1955, it appeared only as a 78 RPM and featured Tito’s regular percussion team of Willie Bobo on bongó, Mongo Santamaria on congas, with the addition of Carlos “Patato” Valdés as the conga soloist. In the early 70’s Tito changed the name of the piece to “Palladium Days” when he recorded it again in a newer version for the “Para Los Rumberos” album for the Tico label. It features a unique dissonant intro with some heavy “comida” (food) for the saxophone section. We feature a “battle royal” between Daniel Jamieson and Jonas Ganzemuller on altos, Alex Lopez and Benjamin Britton on tenors and a final salvo by Michael Sherman on baritone sax while the percussion section gets the last word with Cristian Rivera on timbales.
MAMBO BUDDHA – Maestro Puente was greatly affected by his tenure in the Navy in World War II. He loved the Navy and was very proud of his service. But he also experienced the horrors of war as he often had to blow taps as the ships bugler when a shipmate was killed in battle and once cried while doing so. At the end of the war he was offered the option of taking a cruise back to the States that would stop in various Asian ports of call. Although the trip lasted several months, it had the advantage of exposing him to authentic Asian culture and music. Upon his return to the U.S. he began composing tunes with Asian based themes. This piece is a majestic example of the respect he had for this culture. It appeared on the 1955 Cuban Carnival album released on RCA. To my knowledge it has never been performed in public until this very concert.
RAN KAN KAN – One of Tito’s first hits with dancers and one of his most enduring compositions. Recorded on November 23, 1949 for the Tico label, Tito did a very unique thing in this piece as he had the horns represent the explosive percussive power of the timbales. Tito did many versions of this popular piece over the years. In this version we feature Jonas Ganzemuller on alto sax and Anthony Stanco on trumpet. Norman Edwards on drums drives the band with fire as he kicks the band much like El Rey would do himself.
ALEGRE CHA-CHA -CHA (HAPPY CHA-CHA-CHA) - Created in 1949 in Cuba by violinist Enrique Jorin, the cha-cha-cha didn’t hit New York City until 1955 at the height of the mambo era. It was originally played in Cuba in the charanga format (a small group which features violins and baroque wooden flute, timbales, guiro macho, piano and bass with vocals). You’ll hear Tito’s approach in adapting it to the big band format. With its funky cadence and its slower tempo than the mambo, it was the perfect vehicle for NYC dancers to create the hippest of moves. We feature Cristian Sylvester Sands, special guest flutist Frank Fontaine and Tim Vaughn on trombone.
RITUAL FIRE DANCE - Manuel De Falla’s is one of orchestral music’s most renowned composers. He would incorporate themes from his Spanish background reflecting the love he had for his country. Tito Puente’s version of this piece appeared on the “Tito Puente & His Concert Orchestra” album for Tico in 1973, a work that re-affirmed his position in the public’s eye and to his colleagues that he indeed was a virtuosic musician. One word can be used to describe his treatment of the piece, MAJESTIC. Opening with a percussion salvo mixing conga de comparsa, mambo and rock, Tito again demonstrates he was a master of the art of the big band and orchestral color.
YAMBEQUE – A hard driving up tempo jazz mambo that showcases the dynamic range of the orchestra and takes no prisoners. Appearing on the “Cuban Carnaval” album Tito provides the perfect vehicle to showcase the be-bop vocabulary of alto saxophonist Jonas Ganzemuller while Cristian Rivera evokes the virtuosity of legendary Cuban bongocero Armando Peraza who performed on the original recording. The title refers to a level of achievement in the Afro-Cuban secret fraternal order known as Abacua.
ME RECUERDO DE TI – Composed by Cuba’s Gustavo Chiclen-Gonzalo Curiel and arranged by Tito, this lamentful bolero with interludes of cha-cha-cha, conga de comparsa and a final son montuno section appeared on the 1966 “Cuba Y Puerto Son” album for the Tico label. It was the first pairing of The King with Cuba’s Queen, Celia Cruz. Recorded in only one take, it is an ode to the memories Celia had of Cuba with its famous night clubs, cabarets, and beautiful cities, like Havana, Camaguey, and Matanzas. Puente publicist, archivist and friend Joe Conzo Sr. who was present at the recording session recalls, “Celia recorded it in one take. She cried when she hit the last note it was so emotional and the entire orchestra applauded after it ended.” We feature in the role of Celia Cruz our very own Rachel Kara Perez who is an undergrad in the classical division at the Manhattan School of Music. Special thanks to arranger Gene Marlow for his treatment/re-construction of this piece which had only been performed once after it was recorded way back in 1966.
MAMBO BEAT – Jazz mambo in all its glory. This Puente piece appeared on the 1957 “Night Beat” album on RCA which was the follow up to “Puente Goes Jazz”. Tito’s creativity adds a 16 bar swing interlude right in the middle of this hard driving mambo. It’s a definite nod of praise to his youth when he listened to his hero Gene Krupa and all the other great masters of swing on the radio. Maestro Puente loved the baritone sax and he would specifically feature it in many of his arrangements as he does here. In the role of Joe Grimm who took the original solo, we feature Mike Sherman. Trumpet virtuoso Doc Severinson was featured on the original recording. Filling Doc’s shoes is a mighty task, so we feature our entire trumpet section, Paul Stodolka, Blake Martin, Justin Walter, and Anthony Stanco in tribute to the great one.
MAMBO ADONIS – We close with an example of a true masterpiece. “Mambo Adonis” was composed for the specific purpose of it being played when the Puente Orchestra would perform at the Palladium Ballroom alongside the Machito Afro-Cubans. It would be played by both orchestras simultaneously at the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve. Tonight we play the re-structured scaled down version for 21 musicians. Its dynamic foreboding opening leads to a full blown descarga (Cuban jam session) with twists and turns at every moment featuring the trumpets, saxophones and trombones in full battle mode. A closing wall of sound leads like a tidal wave to the final bembé (Yoruba celebration) in 6/8 meter celebrating our common West African rhythmic roots. Tito re-titled “Mambo Adonis” giving it the name “Machito Forever” in honor of Francisco Raúl Guttierez Grillo de Ayala, A.K.A., Machito upon the legendary vocalist’s death in 1984.
Special thanks to Joe Conzo Sr. for historical data. Historical info on Autumn Leaves, jazzstandards.com