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Some of Tito Puente’s music reflected the influence Asian culture had on him. As we celebrate Asian month in the US, it’s essential to recognize those influences and how they enriched Latin Jazz and Latin music.
Bobby Sanabria’s Article on Asian Influence on Tito Puente
In May 2021 the great percussionist and educator Bobby Sanabria wrote an article for WBGO.org titled “Take Five: Listening For the Asian Influence on Latin Jazz Trailblazer Tito Puente” where he outlines the details of how this culture influenced some of Puente’s music.
Sanabria is an expert on Tito Puente, having been his friend and mentee. Bobby recorded “Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!!” back in 2011.
His article recounts Tito Puente’s background, particularly how his time in the Navy exposed him to Asian culture. He explains how that exposure influenced Puente’s music. Here’s a Tito Puente quote from Sanabria’s article:
“When the war ended and Japan surrendered, the Navy gave me a choice,” he said. “There were so many troops that had to be sent back that they had to stagger their return. They asked me if instead of coming back right away, I could take a delayed return by ship, by going to different ports in the Orient. It would take several months. They explained to me that we’d stop along the way in each port city, and I would learn about the music, food, customs, etc.
I decided to take that option — and it was great, because I really heard a lot of Asian music and experienced their culture. I learned how they used chord voicings in fourths, writing melodies using their scales, etc. It’s the reason I’ve written all those tunes like ‘Hong Kong Mambo’ and ‘Mambo Buddha.’ It started with ‘Picadillo’ and it’s gone on from there. If I hadn’t made that decision, I probably never would’ve composed those things.”
The article showcases the music Puente references above plus a couple of other songs. Sanabria explains each song and some of the history of each piece.
Again, here’s another link to Bobby Sanabria’s article “Take Five: Listening For the Asian Influence on Latin Jazz Trailblazer Tito Puente“