The Mambo King

At 74, Tito Puente is still sitting on Latin music's throne.

These days, Puente does so with a little help from his friends. He says he doesn't have time to write new material because "I'm performing all the time. But I have a staff of arrangers who write for me. You know, I have 107 albums out now. Well, my musicologist says I have 114, but I want to make sure the numbers are right before I say that for sure. See, I used to record so much when I was young--lots of records every year. It's easy to miss some, I guess, when you count them up.

"I've made hundreds of hundreds of thousands of people around the world happy with my music," he contends. "I made them forget their problems, forget politics and united them. That's very important for me, to be able to deliver that to the mass of people that I perform to. I know that is a powerful skill. But I'm not a spiritual leader or anything like that. I don't heal people. I get to people through my music. That's the way they feel it, and that's what I'm supposed to be doing on this earth. You know, I'm not looking for work now. People send for me. I even am on the Internet. People want to hear me and they want to see me. I'm just glad that I am still able to give them what they want."

But after fifty years in the spotlight, what does Puente want?
"I have two things that I would like to do to give me my personal satisfaction," he says. "One is to receive the JFK Medal from the President of the United States in Washington, D.C., for work in the arts. A presidential commendation--that would give our music a lot more recognition and put it at a higher level with the rest of the musics around the world. They give that special medal of the arts every year, and I want to get one. And the second thing that I want is to be the first band, in the year 2000 or a little past that, to play on the moon. I'd leave my timbales up there. That way I'll make the Guinness Book of World Records and I could slow down a little and maybe retire a few years after that. You know, it's hard to make a world record. But if I go to the moon, I've got it made."

Jazz Aspen, with Tito Puente and Grover Washington, Jr. 7:15 p.m. Friday, June 20, Snowmass, $15-$100, lodging/ticket packages available, 1-800-SNOWMASS or 830-

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