For the Love of the Mambo

A documentary portrait of the Mambo Legends Orchestra, musicians who, night after night, shared the bandstand with the late great Tito Puente over the course of decades. Today they pass the mystery, passion, and thrill of performing a treasured American art form to a new generation of musicians.

  • Marsha Baxter
    Director
  • Doyle Dean
    Director
  • Marsha Baxter
    Producer
  • Mitch Frohman
    Key Cast
    Sex in the City
  • Sonny Bravo
    Key Cast
  • Johnny Rodriguez
    Key Cast
  • Jose Madera
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 22 minutes 11 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    May 15, 2015
  • Production Budget:
    100,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    Yes
  • Student Project:
    No
  • Albuquerque Film and Music Experience Festival
    Albuquerque NM
    June 4, 2015
  • American Documentary Film Festival (trailer screening)
    Palm Springs CA
    April 5, 2013
  • St. Lawrence International Film Festival
    Potsdam New York
    October 25, 2015
    East Coast Premiere
Director Biography - Marsha Baxter, Doyle Dean

Marsha Baxter’s eclectic musical tastes and deep curiosity have taken her around the globe. She studied pre-Columbian music with a Huichol Indian in Guadalajara, Mexico; performed with India’s noted composer and musician A. R. Rahman; and conducted fieldwork with an Andean panpipes subway performer. Baxter now teaches at State University of New York’s Crane School of Music, where she directs the Latin ensemble La Garza. For the Love of the Mambo, a film capturing the passage of Latin music to a new generation of young performers, is Baxter’s first documentary film.

Marsha is the recipient of the prestigious State University of New York Chancellor's Internationalization Award and the State University of New York President's Award for Excellence in Research and/or Teaching Relating to Cultural Diversity. She interrogates and writes about issues of music and social justice (Voices of Resistance, Voices of Transcendence: Musicians as Models of the Poetic-Political Imagination, IJEA) and alternative ways of knowing music (From the Bandstand to the Classroom: Thinking and Playing Grooves, MEJ). Marsha teaches Comprehensive Musicianship at Teachers College, Columbia University each summer.

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Director Statement

On a muggy spring morning in 1995, I heard the Tito Puente Orchestra live for the first time. The venue – an auditorium crowded with public school elementary students and teachers on Manhattan’s Upper Westside. The band generously included in their program a descarga with my fifth grade percussionists and riffed along to their West African inspired piece. Among Puente’s sidemen were Jose Madera, Johnny Rodriguez, Sonny Bravo, Bobby Porcelli, and Mitch Frohman, who had arranged the concert and whose three daughters were my music students at the school.

Years later, I invited Mitch to perform as guest artist with the Latin ensemble I direct at the Crane School of Music. Our concert led to a collaboration much larger in scope, an on-going project with the newly formed Mambo Legends Orchestra, composed of many of Puente’s musicians I had first heard in Manhattan. Throughout 2010, my students traveled to New York City for master-classes and private lessons with Mitch Frohman, Pete Nater, Johnny Rodriguez, Jose Madera, Kevin Bryan, John Walsh, and Bobby Porcelli. Following multiple trips to New York City, the Mambo Legends Orchestra performed and presented master-classes in Potsdam at the Crane School of Music. Our ensemble opened the concert, playing La esencia del guaguanco in honor of Mambo Legends Orchestra vocalist Cita Rodriguez and in memory of her father, the celebrated sonero Pete ‘El Conde’ Rodriguez.

Tito Puente has come to signify the Latin musical experience. His legacy lives on through the Mambo Legends Orchestra – musicians who, night after night, shared the bandstand with him over the course of decades. Our documentary traces the story of these legendary artists reaching out to a new generation of young performers, who uncover the intricacies – and essentials – of playing Latin music and, along the way, transform as learners and musicians.