In Memory of Tito
Legendary percussionist Tito Puente talks to qvMagazine in one of his very last interviews.

THE LATIN MUSIC WORLD felt a huge loss when legendary percussionist Tito Puente died on May 31, 2000. Tito was a man whose musical evolution and passion inspired all races. His talent and drive was one of the major forces that set the stage for the entire Latin music boom today. Shortly before his death, qvMagazine conducted what turned out to be one of his last interviews--an interview which captured Tito's passion, energy, and his love of life and music.

Do you prefer your interviews in Spanish or in English? Chinese, Japanese...any way you want! (laughs)

What is it like to be one of the first artists ever to be nominated for a Grammy, and years later to be nominated again? Great! I've been nominated ten times, but I've won four times. This year might be my fifth (Which Tito did win after our interview). If I win, fine. It's really just recognition for me worldwide and for our music because it puts us on a higher level musically throughout the world.

What has been your greatest satisfaction? Having recorded 118 albums over the years is important to me. My recording schedule allows me to go and tour around the world. That is important not only because it's fun but being recognized worldwide opens up new doors for other Latin musicians as well.

What is your current touring schedule like? I play most cities-all the major cities-two or three times a year.

You've had many great vocalist sing on your albums over the years. Do you have any favorites? Not really. Out of the females I can mention, some of the bigger names are La Lupe, Celia Cruz and many others. As for the male vocalists, guys like Santito Colón, Tico Valdez, Gilberto Monroy, and now I have a new boy who's very good whose name is Frankie Morales. I really don't have any favorites-each one of them has different styles of singing.

Who do you listen to at home or in the car? I listen to a lot of jazz, actually. I listen to all the bands from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia! I listen to anybody really.

How do you feel about the most recent boom in Latin music? It's very good thanks to Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Chayanne, and others. There are a couple of Latin artists who are on the rise as well. It's still Latin music, but they hit the pop market. People dig their music and eventually will come around and dig ours, which is more of the Mambo and Cha Cha Cha.

For those who have never seen you in concert, what can they expect at a Tito Puente concert? The excitement of the music! The rhythm part of it! I always ask my audience, "Did you feel it?" or "Am I getting to ya!?" And they do feel it, especially young people-and I hope the rest get into me soon because I'm going to hang up soon.

So is it true that you might be retiring? No, not retire. I just have to watch my health. I travel too much and it takes a lot out of you.

After so many years, how do you maintain your energy and passion? My health is important. I don't drink. I take my vitamins. I do my exercise. I practice a lot; I rehearse a lot with the band, so it keeps me active. I'm surrounded by creative people which is important. I'm a creative person-that's how you end up with 118 albums. (He proudly smiles)

With all due respect, how old are you? 12 years old! (playfully frowns) I've been a band leader now for 50 years. I started off drumming and doing big bands in the '40s.

You mentioned earlier something about your young fans. What message could you bring to predominantly young male qvBoys? I recommend for them to really study their art. I've had a scholarship under my name for 20 years now, and I've always said you'll make it whether it's acting, dancing, singing or general performing arts. Just stay at it! Say, "NO! NO! NO!" to drugs, and you'll eventually make it.

How does one end up with such a full and thick set of hair as yours? I don't know. (smiles) I just have to thank God for that one. (laughs)

Back when discrimination was one of the biggest obstacles-especially to get a gig and play at a respectable venue, how did you deal with it? I just did. I was sort of prepared because my family dealt with it before I did. When I was born as a Puerto Rican in 1923, there was a lot of discrimination, especially with the blacks and Latinos. But over the years, as I became a professional, I'm proud to say that my music has brought a lot of people together.

How do you feel about the Latin Grammy's? Some people think it's the best thing, while others think it's segregating. I just think Latinos deserve more nominations, more appropriate categories, and more recognition. There are many genres and many people don't get recognized But the Latin Grammy's might work out. We'll just have to wait and see.

Over the years, you've covered many styles. How many more musical styles can we expect? Well, my next project will be a swinging album with Eddie Palmieri. The idea was to put two bands together in a recording studio. The only thing left to do after that would be to come out in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first Latin artist to play on the moon! (laughs) n

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