As a percussionist and bandleader, Tito Puente was a legendary figure in Latin music and jazz for more than six decades.
Puente's long career was marked by tireless experimentation with music, forging hybrids of big-band jazz sounds and Afro-Caribbean rhythms — sounds that are now largely taken for granted. He is credited with opening the U.S. public's ears and hearts to new sounds from Puerto Rico and Cuba, mixed with U.S. pop of the time.
Though he was best known for his energetic, charismatic stage performances, during which he twirled and tossed his drumsticks above his timbales, danced, smiled and made faces, Puente also was a master composer and arranger. He has been compared in stature to artists such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
Puente is often referred to as the godfather of salsa, but he was not fond of the term "salsa," which was coined decades after he had fused big-band jazz sounds with Afro-Caribbean rhythms.
Known in Spanish by the nickname "El Rey" ("the King"), Puente recorded at least 119 albums between 1949 and 2000, the last of which, a joint project with pianist Eddie Palmieri, will be released this summer. Puente won his fifth Grammy in February  for best traditional tropical Latin performance for "Mambo Birdland."