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Bridges

Chapter 4: The Mambo Craze: Tito Puente & Tito Rodriguez

[MUSIC AND PICTURE RISES TO FOOTAGE OF: PEREZ PRADO "MAMBO #8"]

In the early fifties, the Mambo burst onto the international stage, with hit records by Damazo Pérez Prado, a Cuban working in Mexico City.

[MUSIC BREAK]

Despite Pérez Prado's popularity, he didn't invent the Mambo. Musicologists still debate who did...

[FOOTAGE: PEREZ PRADO "MAMBO #8": GRUNT]

[CONTEMPORARY FOOTAGE: CACHAO PLAYING BASS]

...but the first piece to be called a Mambo was written in the late 1930s in Cuba, by the pianist Orestes López and his brother bassist, Israel López, better known as Cachao. They were searching for a way to liven up a Cuban form of ballroom dancing, called danzón.

ISRAEL "CACHAO" LOPEZ: (translation) The mambo emerged when we spun the ship around 180 degrees. Yes, because we wanted to do something entirely different So we used the syncopation - a completely syncopated rhythm - pam, pam, pam, pam.

[RECREATION: ARRIVING IN NEW YORK CITY]

The intriguing López' Mambo was picked up by other Cuban composers and arrangers... including one who traveled to New York and worked with Mario Bauzá and Machito in the early 1940s.

COLON: I heard it from Mario, he said, "Hey, mira tienen algo nuevo de Cuba y se llama mambo, hay que tocarlo asi..." you know that means, 'there's something new from Cuba, it's coming up, it's coming into New York, and you play it this way. They got a new dance, for it, you know and it's saxes, you know?' That's when you heard figures like, uh, te-de-dim-dim-dum-dum... They never had those figures before.

[FOOTAGE: ARCHIVE MAMBO ORCHESTRA AND DANCERS]

So while most of the US and the world saw Pérez Prado as the "King of the Mambo," New York with its jazzier sounds and decades old Latin music scene had its own royalty, known as "The Big Three."

[STILL: MACHITO AND HIS AFRO-CUBANS AT PALLADIUM]

Machito and his Afro-Cubans were the elder statesmen, the two other contenders had grown up in El Barrio.

[STILL: ALBUM COVER, TITO RODRIGUEZ]

Tito Rodríguez was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York as a young boy.

[STILL: TITO RODRIGUEZ]

By the 1950s, the suave singer led his own band.

While his hot numbers burned, Rodríguez was also known for his romantic boleros.

LARRY HARLOW: (VO) Tito Rodríguez was a crooner. (OC) He used to dance with the women and take his microphone and just look into their eyes and just sing these beautiful ballads and the girls would just melt on the floor.

[CONTEMPORARY FOOTAGE: TIMBALE TIGHT SHOT- SANABRIA SOLO]

But there was another Tito too.

[STILL: TITO PUENTE]

Tito Puente was born in El Barrio, just three years after his parents arrived from Puerto Rico.

[CONTEMPORARY FOOTAGE: TIMBALE TIGHT SHOT]

Always interested in music, as a teenager he'd turned away from that of his parents. For Puente, nothing beat Swing.

[FOOTAGE: SWING BAND AND GENE KRUPA ON DRUMS]

At fourteen, he saw drummer Gene Krupa at the Paramount Theater. "I knew right there what I wanted, to be Gene Krupa" he later said.

[STILL: YOUNG TITO PUENTE SEATED AT TRAP DRUM SET]

But Puente found immediate work in the local Latin bands... and took up the timbales.

[CONTEMPORARY FOOTAGE: TIMBALES TIGHT SHOT]

He soon found himself under the wing of Mario Bauzá.

TITO PUENTE: (ARCHIVE INTERVIEW) He was one of my mentors. He taught me a lot about playing, performing, rehearsing bands.

[STILLS: YOUNG TITO PUENTE]

PUENTE: (ARCHIVE INTERVIEW) (VO) I worked with Machito for quite a few years. Then the war came around and I was drafted.

[STILLS: PUENTE IN NAVY UNIFORM]

A bugler and gunner's mate in the Navy, Puente saw combat in World War II. He also played saxophone in bands to entertain the crews. By the end of the 1940s Puente was running his own band... and revolutionizing the role of the timbales.

[FOOTAGE: TITO PUENTE ON TIMBALES KICKING ALONG W/DANCERS]

SANABRIA: (VO) He starts making the instrument (OC) a vibrant force in the orchestra.

[FOOTAGE: TITO PUENTE ON TIMBALES KICKING ALONG W/DANCERS]

SANABRIA: (VO) Very much like Gene Krupa (OC) before Gene Krupa, drummers were not featured artists, or anything like that, all of a sudden Gene Krupa comes out and he's like a featured soloist. Tito does the same thing.

[FOOTAGE: TITO PUENTE ON TIMBALE KICKING ALONG W/DANCERS]

Puente was just getting started. His career as a consummate musician, bandleader and arranger lasted over fifty years.

SANABRIA: (VO) As Mario Bauzá said many, many times, (OC) "Nobody has done more for Afro-Cuban music, than Tito Puente. Nobody."

[STILL TITO PUENTE, MUSIC FINISHES]

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