“There are two periods in Latin music and jazz: before Puente and after Puente.” — Bobby Sanabria
Tito Puente Quattro – The Definitive Collection Honors Latin Jazz Legend with 5-CD, 5-LP and Digital Box Sets
The Puerto Rican-American jazz master Tito Puente would have celebrated his 90th birthday in 2013, as well as the 10th anniversary of his Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. To honor one of the 20th Century’s great musical figures, Sony Music Latin delivers something for the Latin icon’s fans to celebrate: the release of TITO PUENTE: Quatro, The Definitive Collection. This historic release is the first-ever archival boxed-set collection from Sony Music Latin’s extensive music vaults, with four classic albums by Tito Puente recorded between 1955 and 1960 for RCA Victor: Cuban Carnival (1956), Night Beat (1957), Dance Mania (1958) and Revolving Bandstand (1960). The set also includes a 5th bonus CD of rarities highlighting outtakes, alternate takes and his biggest-selling single hit, “Ran Kan Kan.”
This history-making collection features landmark recordings by the famed composer, percussionist and bandleader, defining his style and his reach, as well as setting the foundation for his later work. Quatro, the Definitive Collection is available in three formats: as a 5-CD set, 180-gram vinyl 5-LP set, or — for the first time — as a digital download collection, all remastered to the highest standards from the original RCA tapes. While these four early releases have been previously re-issued, Puente’s vision can at last be heard with the sonic brilliance it deserves, and with the textured layers of percussion that thrilled his live audiences. The digital set in itself is a first, allowing old and new fans to explore his genius on a laptop, tablet or smartphone.
The CD’s curator and producer, Sony Music Latin A&R exec Anthony Gonzalez, explains: “The idea for Quatro began in 2001, the year after Tito passed, when I began to work with his RCA catalog.” But it was important for Sony Music Latin that this be something special. “From the very beginning we didn’t want it to be a ‘box set’ in any ordinary sense. We wanted something more compelling, something to appeal not just to fans but to collectors, a conversation piece you’d proudly put on your coffee table.”
The limited-edition collectable (only 5,000 CD and LP sets will be pressed) is packaged in a silver and black hardbound cover that contains detailed liner notes, unpublished photos and memorabilia, and previously unreleased album artwork from the period. Each album, printed with original RCA Victor label, is housed individually in a thick cardboard sleeve with back and front facsimiles of the original LP cover art. The liner notes also include tributes from famous fans including Tony Bennett, Emilio Estefan, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, and Celia Cruz.
“I wanted to tell a story through the liner notes and graphics,” notes Gonzalez. “I wanted to make sure that every detail was covered with all the information that we had available. Replicating the original artwork was possible with great computer software, since the original negatives are not around anymore. We tracked down the original LPs in the best condition we could find, bought them, and then scanned them inch by inch, cleaning them up and making them look like they did when they were new.”
The recordings themselves were meticulously reclaimed. “I located the original tapes in our vaults and also some tracks that had been digitally transferred, a measure our archivists were taking with tapes that were showing early signs of deterioration. Once we had it all collected, the tracks were sent to Fuller Sound in Miami for the full analog remastering process.”
Vinyl audiophiles will also be impressed with the 180-gram LP version of Quatro, finally bringing this music back to the turntables it was originally intended for. “The reason behind the vinyl release was to offer old and new vinyl fans the full Tito Puente LP experience,” says Gonzalez. “These incredible recordings carry such great warmth when heard on a turntable.”
The discs in the Quatro: The Definitive Collection trace a major landmark in Puente’s ascension to becoming El Rey, the King of the Mambo. And they might have easily gone unnoticed on their release. While RCA Victor gave Puente the best tools available at the time to record his music, once they were delivered the label often locked horms with the demanding bandleader. While his label mate Perez Prado got RCA’s full promotional push, Tito’s independence and resistance to commercial concerns earned him the nickname “Little Caesar.” Still, he fought for support from the label, and he largely prevailed.
Yet as the Latin jazz scene was overtaken by the pop music industry, Puente’s work was often undervalued. Notes Gonzalez: “If there was one misconception about Tito Puente, it was that he was just a percussionist and entertainer who got lucky when Santana scored a commercial hit with his song ‘Oye Como Va’. The truth is, Tito was a very accomplished musician, someone who studied at Juilliard. He was a complete percussionist. He wrote most of the songs he recorded and was a fierce bandleader, greatly respected by all the musicians that worked and played with him. He always aimed for perfection. Simply stated, Tito was a musical genius”.
Crucial to putting these albums in context are the liner notes by Quatro co-producer and Puente’s close friend Joe Conzo Sr., author of Mambo Diablo: My Journey with Tito Puente. He gives a synopsis of how these recordings elevated Tito’s career and impacted American popular music and jazz. This great musician and showman later came to be one of the most beloved Latino figures in American pop, nationally known from his TV appearances on The Cosby Show, Sesame Street, or playing himself in the film The Mambo King.
The musical vision of Ernesto “Tito” Puente, born in NYC’s barrio April 20, 1923, is a proud one that helped not only secure his own legacy as an artist but also established a new level of respect not only for Puerto Rican culture but also for all Latinos stigmatized by the segregation and racism of the 1950s and 1960s. He helped popularize Latin dance music and jazz in the United States with a career that spanned over six decades. The innovative composer and musician recorded over 100 albums and won five Grammy Awards. “The most important Latin musician of the last half century” is how the New York Times referred to him upon his death on June 1, 2000 at age 77.
“This project was truly done for the love of Tito,” says Gonzalez, “to honor the man, his musical legacy and his memory.”
“Quatro defines Tito Puente,” concludes Conzo, “who he was musically and creatively and who he went on to be. He has never really left us.”