Tito Puente Jr. to Perform September 9 at WKCTC's Clemens Fine Arts Center in Paducah
WKCTC's Clemens Fine Arts Center kicks off its 2022-23 Arts in Focus series with Tito Puente Jr., musician and son of the legendary Tito Puente. Tracy Ross speaks to Puente Jr. ahead of his CFAC performance about music, the '80s, and his father.
Puente Jr. begins by explaining that, despite his father's musical fame and legacy, he was never that interested in his father's music from the 1950s while he was growing up. "I've always been an '80s kid and still am even today at the age of 51. I loved rock music first."
However, once Puente Jr. began spending more time and traveling with his father, he started to warm up to his musical heritage. "I gravitated towards the congo, the bongo, and timbale, which were the instruments my father played. Traveling with him, I learned the craft of the clave rhythm, the Afro-Cuban rhythm that my father was exuberating throughout the entire world."
Puente Jr. recalls traveling to countries where the audience spoke neither English nor Spanish, but they "knew the sound of the music and the language of the music. That's when I started gravitating towards what they would call now 'Latin jazz' music. Probably the late '80s. There were some fantastic records that my father put out at that time, too, which, again, I wasn't a fan of, but I started to enjoy later on in my career."
Then, as Puente Jr.'s career began to take off in the 1990s, he was able to invite his father along his musical journey. "I asked him to be on some music videos and records, and he got a taste of Latin house music and dance music." The two musicians also dabbled in rock and hip hop, further supported by Carlos Santana revamping Puente Sr.'s hit 1963 song, Oya Como Va.
Puente Jr. continues that tradition of mixing genres and sounds. "I have the rock element in there. You can feel it when you see me in concert. I have my own quirky style and personality, but I try my best to present the Tito Puente arrangements and compositions the way my father would have wanted them presented in the purest form. I'll add my little salsa in there, my spice, where I'll add a guitar or drum set or something like that into the song."
Puente Jr. says the best thing about carrying on his father's legacy is continuing the "feeling and the spirit" of Latin jazz. "This music is built for dancing," he says. "[My father] was an ambassador of Latin music, and he brought people from all creeds, colors, races, languages, all together for one purpose: bringing people to dance."
"Tito was a dancer at first and then became a musician," Puente Jr. continues. "So, when he's playing his drums, it looks like he's dancing with his hands on the drums. That joy of that is something that's hard to duplicate, but I feel the spirit when I'm performing. To experience Tito live, you will feel that kindred spirit that he had, that fun feeling. He smiled all the time, him and his white hair. It's nice to present the music in its purest form. You can't help but dance at a Tito Puente Jr. concert, just like my father before me."
The Clemens Fine Arts Center presents Tito Puente Jr. live in concert on Friday, September 9th, at 7:30 pm. Call the box office at 270-534-3212 on weekdays from 8:30 am to 4 pm or visit the WKCTC website to purchase tickets and learn about upcoming CFAC performances.