Jul 30, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Musician Tito Puente Jr. had never been to Skaneateles before coming to perform at the July 28 SKARTS Gala. Standing on the back lawn of Stella Maris Retreat Center and looking over the lake, Puente, 41, said, “Man, this is beautiful! I love this area of New York. This is the real New York here. New York is paradise.”
The son of music icon Tito Puente, the “King of Latin Jazz,” Puente Jr., who lives in south Florida, grew up in New York City, His sister graduated from Syracuse University, and Puente himself attended Onondaga Community College for two semesters before pursuing his musical aspirations.
“I did hear about Skaneateles, but I’d never been here,” he said. “I was too busy doing other things at college!” he said.
But college wasn’t for him, he decided. “My father told me, ‘You can go back to school, go get a job or get a hit record like me, man,’” Puente said. So his father gave him an old car and a couple hundred dollars, and the son headed to south Florida.
There, which was right before the “Latin explosion,” he said, he got into the Latin music scene and was embraced by musicians such as Gloria Estefan. Puente Jr.’s first hit record was Latin pop, but then he started to play more of his father’s style of music, which is a mix of Latin, jazz and big band swing.
“I take elements of my father’s music and bring it to the youth of today with my own style,” he said. “You will dance; you will feel it.”
Puente and his wife arrived in Skaneateles Friday night, July 27, after flying from a week’s family vacation in New York City (with his five children) to Florida and then to Syracuse. They stayed at Mirbeau. “We went right for the spa and started decompressing,” he said. “This is a vacation from our vacation.”
Puente said he has traveled the world but New York — state as well as and city — is home. But he remains amazed at how music transcends all language or cultural barriers. He recently was requested to play in China and Indonesia; and he marveled at the reception he received in Israel, where he said Hassidic Jews were singing along to his songs.
For more information on Tito Puente Jr., visit his official website at gotmambo.com, his Facebook page at Facebook.com/Titopuentejr, or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/titopuentejr.
The sounds of a Latin dance party mamboed across the grounds of Stella Maris last Saturday night as 300 people enjoyed the Latin jazz music of Tito Puente Jr. and his 12 piece jazz band during the eighth annual Skaneateles Area Arts Council Gala.
The gala, the major fundraiser of the year for SKARTS, raised thousands of dollars through the event, all of which goes back into the community in the form of grants to cultural, educational and community endeavors.
“People love this event,” said gala co-chair Fouad Dietz. “We couldn’t do this without community support — and the money we make goes right back out into the community.”
“This will be a different type of concert tonight,” said co-chair Jean McGlynn during set-up for the event Saturday afternoon. “People will get very involved and join in the dancing. It will be very festive and a lot of fun.”
It was a fun night, and energetic, with the highly infectious enthusiasm of Tito Puente Jr. and his band dancing off the stage, as well as members of La Familia de la Salsa dance troupe dancing on the dance floor — and giving lessons and encouraging everyone to get up and dance.
And dance they did. After a salsa lesson from La Familia de la Salsa during the cocktail hour, from the minute Puente and his band started playing the dance floor was filled.
“We’re gonna take you back in time to the music you want to dance to,” said Fuente, who was not only a great musician, but hilariously funny as well. “We should all be in the kitchen right now, but we’re here,” he said, referring to the band’s Latin heritage.
Puente engaged the crowd, telling stories, sharing personal history and introducing all his songs, speaking both English and Spanish, with all of the lyrics being in Spanish. He praised the huge influence of his father, Tito Puente, on both himself and the world of music in general. “I have some very big shoes to fill,” Puente Jr. said.
Tito Puente was the musical innovator and pioneer who blended Latin music, jazz and big band swing into a new genre. Puente’s career spanned five decades during which he made more than 100 albums, won five Grammy awards, and is often called “The King of Latin Jazz.”
Attendee Conchita Hernandez, of Marcellus, was eager to hear Puente Jr. play because she grew up as a huge fan of his father. “If Jr.’s great, his father was amazing,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez, who grew up in the Spanish part of Solvay, said weekends were always filled with “food and music,” and the music of Tito Puente was “amazing. You had to get up and dance.”
Puente Jr. not only was filling big shoes, but talked about his hope to pass on the musical interest to the next generation, especially his son, Tito Puente Jr. Jr. III — “Why not?” he said with a laugh at his son’s unique name. He then played a song from his latest album, “Got Mambo?” called “Jr.’s Mambo,” which is dedicated to his son.
The gala came to fruition with the assistance of numerous sponsors and contributors, including a family-style dinner by Phoebe’s Restaurant and The Sherwood Inn, wine by Anyela’s Vineyards and desserts by Joelle’s French Bistro and Mirbeau Inn & Spa; multiple local businesses sponsored the night, including the title sponsor, Dr. Robert Kiltz and CNY Fertility Center, and Eagle Newspapers and the Skaneateles Press.
Emcees for the gala were Kiltz and Skaneateles native Carrie Lazarus, co-anchor of NewsChannel 9.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press.He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.
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