When Tito Puente Jr. received the news that Edward James Olmos wanted to produce a set of projects honoring his late father, Tito Puente, it was a no brainer for the Puente family to give the green light.
“This is a fantastic opportunity,” Puente Jr. tells Billboard. “My father is truly missed and remembered, and Mr. Olmos is going to bring light to someone who impacted Latin American culture in general.”
Celebrating the life and legacy of the iconic Puerto Rican musician, songwriter, producer, and timbalero, known for mambo hits such as “Oye Como Va” and “Ran Kan Kan,” Olmos, along with producer/writer Damon Whitaker, music artist/producer David Guzman, and his own son, director/producer Michael D. Olmos, has partnered with the Puente family for a set of projects that include a TV docuseries, a movie and an album, to name a few.
“Every person that has heard his music has been touched by it,” Olmos, best known for his remarkable trajectory as an actor, director, and producer, says. “It’s time we solidify it with an understanding of his life so that in turn, 100 years from now, people will know of him.”
During a virtual interview with Billboard, Olmos and Puente talked more in-depth about the upcoming projects honoring the artist’s 20th-year anniversary since his passing and who Tito Puente was as a father, a friend and an artist.
Tell us a bit more about the various tribute projects that are in the works in celebration of Tito Puente’s legacy. We know that fans can expect a docuseries and an album.
Edward James Olmos: Of course, the most important aspect is going to be the documentary, even though there’s going to be a mini-series because his life was very flamboyant. He was a very extroverted, wonderful human being. His life is going to be longer than what you can share in a documentary. There are also plans of releasing a musical album, his whole retrospective done by contemporary artists of today. That’s really the key to the whole thing, to embrace that he’s the Latin jazz king. His career ran from 1946 until the 2000’s when he passed away. He made music like “Oye Como Va” which was an institutional classic and has been done by different artists and personified by Carlos Santana. It will be an inspirational piece of work. It’s been an ongoing process. The timing is everything.
Why is it important to tell his life and success story now, 20 years after his passing?
Tito Puente Jr.: I’m so excited that we’re teaming up with Mr. Olmos and that he’s a fan of my late father, practically his whole life and he loves mambo music. I’m glad that we got someone on board that knows my father’s music, he was a very good friend of my father too, and we’re celebrating his life and his legacy on the 20th-year anniversary of his passing. Everything that we’re going to put together is going to be something to be seen. The fans deserve to hear the story of Tito Puente from his humble beginnings in el barrio in New York to become the ambassador of Latin music worldwide. This might take a few episodes but I know Mr. Olmos is going to have the family’s best interest in mind and he has a vision that we all, inclusively, would like to see on screen or through a streaming service. Tito Puente’s legacy should be told with the family in mind. There are over 186 albums in my father’s career, so we have plenty of music to choose from. This is a fantastic opportunity. My father is truly missed and remembered and Mr. Olmos is going to bring light to someone who impacted Latin American culture in general.
Edward: The key is not only what it did to the Latino community but what it did to the understanding of the Latino community throughout the world. One of the greatest forms of communication is the arts. Music, film, books, painting, dance, all give you an inside look at the cultural dynamic of the person. Very few of us got to his level… he was advanced in his field. The essence of his work was monumental. The kind of person that he was, he was really authentically ambitious. His music transcended cultures and went into the unification of humanity. We’re trying to bring his magic to life.
Knowing him on a personal level, how would you describe Tito Puente, the friend?
Edward: We did a lot of things together throughout time. I had such a kick with him. With these projects, I want people to get the full range of who he was. He was no angel but he was a really authentic, really passionate, and vibrant human being who gave more than he received. Every person that has heard his music has been touched by it. It’s time we solidify it with an understanding of his life so that in turn, 100 years from now, people will know more of him.
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Tito, what was the family’s initial reaction upon receiving the news? Did you have to think about it or was it an immediate “yes”?
Tito: It was a no brainer for me! We’ve seen everything Mr. Olmos has produced and it’s absolutely phenomenal. My mother has always been a fan. They’ve known each other for many years. I know Edward was a good friend of my father, he was there at his passing on May 31st. Both families were going back and forth. We’ve been trying to get together for some time now to get some sort of story or documentary and bring this story to life. I’m glad we all got together. We’re going to give Edward the best quality of footage and insight on how Tito Puente was at home, the husband, the father.
What do you think these projects will signify for the new generation of artists and music lovers?
Tito: My dad has some very big fans, young and old. Everyone loves Tito Puente’s music. He was such a huge influence on the new generation and in the 20-year since his passing, we were compelled to team up with someone that knew his story, was personal friends with him, and can really tell it in a productive and clear and honest way. My dad had ups and downs in his career and he would always be innovative and come back with a new sound, whether it was Latin jazz or his Afro-Cuban roots or he would go back to his Puerto Rican heritage. He would stick his timbal-playing into other genres just to keep up with the new generation. One thing’s for sure, if you listen to a Tito Puente album, even today, it sounds so advanced for his time. Again, I’m happy that we got this opportunity and I’m so happy to be working with Mr. Olmos and his sons, they’re great producers. A new generation is going to discover fantastic music.
If Tito Puente were alive today, how do you think he would have reacted to this docuseries and film?
Edward: We talked about this when he was alive!
Tito: I think he would say, “don’t ask me any question, man!” He’ll say something sarcastic. And I think he’ll get a kick out of it, especially knowing that Edward is doing it.
Is there a set release date for these projects?
Edward: There’s no rush but yet we’re all in a rush. 2020 marks his 20th anniversary, that’s why we’re doing this but it’ll be here when it needs to be here.