A Legacy of Passionate Latin Dance Music

Tito Rodriquez, Jr. Latin music legend
Take a look back through a memorable interview during the early career of music legend Tito Rodriquez, Jr.

 

There are many occupations that, while they put beans of the table and keep a roof over your head, don’t exactly instill much enthusiasm in their practitioners. Bandleader is not one of those professions. And if you’re a bandleader whose father was a legendary singer and bandleader, the fires of professional passion can be downright incendiary.

So it is with Tito Rodriquez, Jr., son of Pablo “Tito” Rodriquez, dubbed the Frank Sinatra of tropical music. His scintillating rhythms had legions of fans swaying and swirling to the intoxicating big band Latin beat before and after the WWII era.

Tito Jr. surrounded by everything and everyone musical from birth, developed an interest in playing drums by age nine. Although he explored several musical instruments during his teens, including guitar, piano and vibes, he soon gravitated to the timbales. Tito then, at his father’s insistence, pursued a formal music education at the Berklee College of Music and the University of Miami’s Department of Music.

 

 

Tito Rodriguez, Jr. playing guitar in music store Tito Rodriguez, Jr. playing guitar in music store

 

While only in his early twenties, Tito organized his first band, the Tito Rodriquez II Orchestra, which led to his production and recording of Curious, an album that has recently been re-issued on CD and is considered a Latin classic.

Today Tito Rodriguez, Jr. carries his father’s music, as well as his own songs and arrangements to throngs of enthralled listeners and dancers around the world. His mission is to impart a love for his signature mambo refrains, introducing it to current and future generations. To anyone who has every attended a Tito Rodriguez, Jr. performance, there can be little doubt that his exuberant, Caribbean-derived cadence is worthy of musical immortality.

WHAT WERE YOUR EARLY CHILDHOOD YEARS IN NEW YORK LIKE, GROWING UPWITH A MUSIC LEGEND FOR A FATHER?

Our house was always full of music. I knew from all of Dad's records and awards in the house that he was someone special, but to me, he was just
Dad. My earliest memory is when I was seven and listening to my Dad rehearse his orchestra in our basement and then suddenly we were at the Palladium Ballroom in NYC. To encourage my interest in music, my parents bought me a drum set when I was about 8 years old. By the time I was nine, Dad had me working endorsing Bustelo coffee. I was part ofa passionate, hard working family.

Because of who my father was, I also had the opportunity to meet a lot of entertainers and sports figures, such as Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Jose Ferrer, Sammy Davis, Jr. Tony Bennett, Flip Wilson, Delta Reese, and Dione Warwick to name a few.

I have two favorite memories of celebrities. One time Orlando Cepeda came over to our house for dinner. We had time to kill before dinner so he took me and my friends out into the street and played catch with us. I was definitely the hero of the neighborhood for a white.

Golf lessons from the master, Chi Chi Rodriguez, also stands out. He was a great teacher and a real jokester. He had me in stitches on the range. The only downside to my Dad being famous was that my Dad had to travel to tour and he was away from all of us for long stretches of time. We realty missed him.

DID YOU ALWAYS TAKE IT FOR GRANTED THAT YOU WOULD FOLLOW YOUR FATHER INTO A MUSICAL CAREER, OR DID THAT REALIZATION DEVELOP GRADUALLY?

I never took it for granted. My love of music just evolved naturally over time. By the time I was sixteen, music began to spark my interest. Dad said if  I was serious about music, then I had to have a formal music education before he would even consider allowing me to play with him and his orchestra. There were no free rides. This prompted me to study at Berklee College of Music and the University of Miami where I graduated with a BA in Music.

IN YOUR TEENS YOU STUDIED GUITAR, PIANO, VIBES AND TIMBALES. DO YOU PLAY MULTIPLE INSTRUMENTS IN YOUR PERFORMANCES TODAY?

No, professionally I only play the timbales and occasionally sing background. Today I am primarily the orchestra leader/timbale player' The music does not require me to play other instruments. I do enjoy playing the guitar in my spare time.

YOUR FATHER INSISTED ON YOU PURSUING A FORMAL MUSICAL EDUCATIO N, RATH ER THAN A TOTALLY SELF TAUGHT APPROACH. DO YOU FEEL THAT RESULTED IN A MORE SOLID MUSICAL FOUNDATION FOR YOUR MUSICAL DEVELOPMENT?

Yes, absolutely. I learned all aspects of writing music, harmony, theory, arranging, and melody improvisation. Without a formal education, I would not be able to do all of the things I do today, arrange, produce, write, and perform.

TELL US  ABOUT YOUR FIRST BAND, THE TITO RODRIGUEZ II ORCHESTRA, AND HOW IT CAME TO BE.
My father had just died and my Mother came to me with the idea of doing a record. My sister and her husband were running Dad's label, TR Records. To pique people's interest, Mom suggested the name Curious? At the time, I knew Ruben Blades.

We played soccer together in Central Park. He was with Fania singing and composing. I met with Ruben and other songwriters and put the album together. The lead singer was Jose Alberto, El Canario. ln addition, Adalberto Santiago was on Coro along with Ruben. The album sold over 5o,ooo copies in Africa alone. lnLatin music, sales over 50,000 units is considered a gold record. We had a winner on our first try.

YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED, IN SEVERAL CAPACITIES, WITH SOME OF THE TOP LATIN MUSICAL TALENT SPANNING THE  '60s TO THE '9oS. WHO WERE A FEW OF THE MOST MEMORABLE STANDOUTS?

Performing with Cetia Cruz at the Hollywood Bowl really stands out. lt was one of her last performances. Little did I know she was very ill. She put on a great performance and was one of the last great classic Latin performers. The performance at Carnegie Hall with Gitberto Santa Rosa was also very memorable. As an artist it is one of the greatest venues to perform in, so I am very proud of that.

Composing the theme song for Sally Jessy Raphael's show was my first experience as a writer/arranger for a nationally televised TV production. Loved it. Would love to do more of this type of work. lt was a great collaboration between artists.

IN 2002, YOU, ALONG WITH MARIO GRILLO AND TITO PUENTE, JR., FORMED THE BIG 3 PALLADIUM ORCHESTRA. TELL US ABOUTTHE CONCEPT BEHIND IT AND ITS ENDURING SUCCESS.

 

 

 

 

pic-2v3-w-father Tito Rodriguez, Jr. with Tito Puente

 

The concept was originally Mario's. He came to me and asked me if I would co-lead the orchestra with him. The idea was to continue to play traditional Mambo Music with a big band. Between the three of us we have over 2,5oo original charts from our fathers. We love the music and love exposing it to a younger generation. For example, some of them know Luis Miguel's version of Tu Me Delirio, but how many of them have heard my father's recording of it with the London Symphony Orchestra?

ln 2004 we recorded The Big Three Palladium Orchestra, Live at the Bluenote in NYC. This propelled us onto the international stage and now we are touring all over the world. We have been privileged to perform at such spectacular venues as Tanglewood, the Hollywood Bowl, the Porijazz Festival, the lstanbul Jazz Festival and Jazz at Vienne France Festival.

WHY lN 2006, DID YOU DECIDE TO START YOUR OWN, INDEPENDENT LATIN RECORDING LABEL, TRIR RECORDS?

 

 

 

We want to be in total control of every aspect of the product from start to finish. The idea is an album a year for me and to also write and arrange music. We want to sign new artists, produce their albums and support their development. We are currently in discussions now with a major independent label to distribute our products.

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