Celebrity offspring in this country generally fall into one of two distinct categories. They either avidly follow their famous parent or parents into music, acting, politics, etc., or just as energetically flee as fast as they can in the opposite direction.
One reason for choosing the latter path is the difficulties presented by the former. History reveals that few offspring-performers in any genre fully manage to extricate themselves from their parents’ imposing shadow, that the number of Julian Lennons far surpasses the number of Jane Fondas.
One second-generation performer who has taken on the challenge is Tito Puente Jr. Son of the late Latin jazz pioneer, he enjoys a thriving touring and recording career and has played many top festivals. Puente and the Pacific Mambo Orchestra perform November 13 at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore.
When I interviewed the younger Puente a few years back, he noted he did not initially consider a music career. Although he grew up surrounded by Latin jazz in his father’s home, his own tastes ran toward the pop-rock of Bon Jovi and Boston.
It was only after moving to Miami in the early ‘90s and immersing himself in its Cuban community that Puente saw the light.
”That’s what made me want to go play Latin music,” he said. “I’ve always loved music. I just wanted to pick up a different rhythm and sound.
”It’s a fun, festive feeling when you hear Tito Puente music,” the percussionist added. “It’s family, it’s fun, it crosses all barriers.”
In other words, Puente is building on his father’s legacy of integrating traditional Latin music with jazz and other genres. The elder performer was always striving to broaden the music’s appeal.
”It’s definitely my way of tributing him, to revisit his life and legacy and career,” Puente said. “I want (audiences) to understand who Tito Puente was.”
The years leading up to his father’s June 2000 death were particularly fulfilling for his son.
”Toward the end, we were performing together a lot more,” Puente said. “It was nice to spend a lot of time with him. That’s the biggest gift God has ever given me. And, after he passed, I felt it way my duty to keep the music going.”
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