By virtue of his warm, flamboyant stage manner, longevity, constant touring, and appearances in the mass media, Tito Puente is probably the most beloved symbol of Latin jazz. But more than that, Puente managed to keep his music remarkably fresh over the decades; as a timbales virtuoso, he combined mastery over every rhythmic nuance with old-fashioned showmanship -- watching his eyes bug out when taking a dynamic solo was one of the great treats for Latin jazz fans. A trained musician, he was also a fine, lyrical vibraphonist, a gifted arranger, and played piano, congas, bongos, and saxophone. His appeal continues to cut across all ages and ethnic groups, helped no doubt by Santana's best-selling cover versions of "Oye Como Va" and "Para Los Rumberos" in 1970-1971, and cameo appearances on The Cosby Show in the 1980s and the film The Mambo Kings in 1992. His brand of classic salsa is generally free of dark undercurrents, radiating a joyous, compulsively danceable party atmosphere.