Ask anyone that knows Pops what comes to mind when they think of him and they’ll surely answer music, or more specifically, Tito Puente.
Nearly every memory I have of living with Pops involves music because he was always playing an instrument. There were cowbells and congas and timbales and pianos and saxophones and clarinets and of course the infamous flute. The flute was like a third appendage for Pops. He played the flute EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for as long as I can remember for what he called “Jam Sessions.” Can you imagine being six years old and it’s eleven o’clock on a Tuesday and there is literally a full on Latin Jazz “Jam Session” going on in the other room? Between the non-stop Latin music and the billowing smoke from my Ma’s chain smoking, I thought our home was a jazz lounge. (Update MA hasn’t smoked in thirteen years! How awesome is that?)
Pops didn’t just play the flute at home. Under the front seat of his car he kept a TRAVEL FLUTE. Yes. You read that correctly and the travel flute was not like some hatchet kept behind glass for use only in case of an emergency. The travel flute was constantly pulled out EVERYWHERE. BBQ at a friends house? “Let me go get my flute” he’d announce and everyone would get that look on their face like they knew the get together was about to go up a notch. But it wasn’t just parties. We could be having a family picnic at a park and the flute would make an appearance. We could be at a wedding or party or really just about anywhere. Family cruise to the Caribbean? Yes, the flute came along. That’s how he’d win talent shows and make friends with EVERYONE on the boat. “Hey! Isn’t your dad the flute player?” crowds would yell as my brother and I would run away.
His love of music flows into his love for the infamous mambo king Tito Puente. Pops followed Puente throughout his entire career. He followed him, he emulated him and he stalked (or met) him on several occasions. One of the more memorable times was when Tito was playing with The Florida Orchestra in the late ’90s while I was on staff. Pops was backstage and at rehearsals and up close and personal at an intimate reception. It was a great night that I’ll never forget. I know Pops won’t either.
Here’s Pops on Puente. Enjoy.