I don’t think there’s been news this big in Marathon since the announcement that the Old Seven Mile Bridge would be restored*. But Tito Puente Jr. will be playing the Original Marathon Seafood Festival on Saturday, March 10 at 5 p.m.
His father is, of course, the Mambo King, or simply “El Rey,” who passed away in 2000. The appeal of “Oye Como Va” or “Para Los Rumberos” crosses generations and borders. Tito Jr. acknowledges the legacy and connection constantly; make no mistake, he’s following in his father’s footsteps.
What do you call this type of music? Well, it’s Latin Jazz, or salsa, but Mambo fits it the best.
Did you study music? I studied at college, but mainly I absorbed a whole generation of music by touring with my dad during the summer. I got to travel with a man that was a genius in that field. We toured the world and got to see how music is a bridge between cultures, even in the Far East.
How would you describe your stage presence? I have his quirkiness, and his smile, but I don’t know about the style of playing. He was very, very intricate in his drumming. But this is family-friendly, playful music. It’s joyous.
Can you tell us about the playlist for the seafood festival? It will definitely be his music from the 1950s to the 1970s. I also have a Grammy award-winning piano player joining me on stage and a special guest vocalist, Melina Almodovar, to play tribute to Celia Cruz, who was my godmother.
In the ’50s, your dad was the only non-Cuban invited to a government sponsored Cuban music celebration. Are you an honorary Cuban? (Laughing) I guess so! I love the Cuban-Afro music; however, I am a Puerto Rican by descent and blood. I grew up in Harlem and moved to the suburbs of New York City as a teen.
Do you live in Florida now? Yes, I moved here right after Hurricane Andrew and live in Broward County. When my dad was alive, he had a condo here too. We love coming to the Keys, and so did my dad. For all I know, he probably hung out with Hemingway.
Do you travel the world to play? Yes, in fact, I am headed to Milan, Italy next. We play the U.S., South America, and a lot of gigs in the Caribbean. This music resonates with people across the pond, too — Germany, France and England. I play between 150 to 200 times a year. During the summer it’s music festivals; in the winter, it’s more nightclubs.
What has been the highlight of your career so far? Well, I have several Billboard hits, but I always get a thrill every time I perform. I like performing for heads of state, or for people in politics, or corporate functions. I like to call the suit, the CEO, up to jam with me on stage — take them out of their comfort zones. But there are so many aspects to my job, I appreciate different parts of each.
What was the highlight of your dad’s career? Well, he did have eight Grammy awards. But I would have to say it would be me. (Laughing.) He named me after himself, after all! It’s my intention to keep his music going and alive.
So, as a young man you were part of a metal band? Oh, I love heavy metal. In fact, right now I am trying to get tickets to the Journey and Def Leppard tours … if you know anybody. Listen, I wasn’t a rebellious kid and I did spend a good seven years in a rock band, but I eventually gravitated toward the Latin music the more time I spent around my father.
You have one sister? How big is your family? Yes, her name is Audrey and she’s a meteorologist on a Fox channel in New York. She supports me by coming to my concerts, and I support her by watching her on TV. We like to say that she has always had her head in the clouds. I have five kids and two grandchildren.
What’s going to be the best part of this weekend? Bringing some fun after the hurricane. We love Key West and Marathon; we go to Duck Key and stay at Hawks Cay Resort, and visit Islamorada. The entire Monroe County is so special. It’s time to rebuild and bring people together. My music and my late father’s music can do that.