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Trombonist, Composer, Arranger Papo Vázquez

Trombonist, composer and arranger Papo Vázquez is more than thirty-five years into a career spanning the jazz, Latin, Afro-Caribbean and classical music and recording worlds…

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Papo Vázquez

Trombonist, composer, arranger Papo Vázquez has 40+ years of career spanning Latin, Jazz and Afro Caribbean music. National Endowment for the Arts Master Artist, Grammy Nominee.

  • Musical Director for the National Puerto Rican Day Parade   Orchestra, (NYC/WABC) 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022
  • Commissioned by Wynton Marsalis to compose music for Jazz and Art series, conducted and performed with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, CD release August 2019
  • New York Pops Education, Board of Education certified, 2018 and 2019
  • Commissioned new music for Afro Latin Jazz Alliance for “Nueva Musica” concert series 
  • Grammy nominated for Papo Vázquez’ Mighty Pirates, Marooned/Aislado, 2008

Born in 1958 in Philadelphia, PA, although his young formative years were in Puerto Rico. By age 17, Vazquez headed to New York City, recorded and performed with top artists in the salsa music scene like The Fania All-Stars, Ray Barretto, Willie Colón, Eddie Palmieri, Larry Harlow, and Hector La Voe. Vázquez became a key player in NYC’s burgeoning Latin jazz scene of the late 1970’s. 

Went on to perform and/or record with jazz luminaries Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra, Chico O’Farrill, Ray Charles, Slide Hampton’s World of Trombones, Jerry Gonzalez Fort Apache among many others. By the age of 22, Vázquez had traveled the globe.

Vázquez was deeply moved by jazz at a young age. His appreciation and knowledge of the indigenous music of the Caribbean provides him with a unique ability to fuse Afro-Caribbean rhythms with freer melodic and harmonic elements of progressive jazz.

Beginnings

After spending his early years in Puerto Rico, he grew up in the heart of North Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican community. He bought his first trombone from a friend for $5 and joined the elementary school band.

At the age of 14, an uncle recommended him to a local salsa band, where he met trumpet player Jimmy Purvis. Purvis inspired Papo’s lifelong passion for jazz by giving him two records: J.J. Johnson’s Blue Trombone and John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard. By 15, Vázquez was performing with local Latin bands in Philadelphia and accompanying NY visiting artists such as Eddie Palmieri. 

He was a founding member of Jerry Gonzalez’ Fort Apache and Conjunto Libre, as well as Puerto Rico’s popular Latin fusion band Batacumbele. With Batacumbele he performed, composed, arranged and recorded on several albums from 1981 to 1985. Upon his return to New York, he joined Tito Puente’s Latin Jazz Ensemble, traveling with them as principal trombonist, and toured Europe with Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra.

Leader, Composer, Innovator

Vázquez has always been deeply moved by jazz, and specifically cites the music of John Coltrane and J.J. Johnson as having most influenced him.  In addition, his appreciation for and knowledge of the indigenous music of the Caribbean peoples provides him with a unique ability to fuse Afro-Caribbean rhythms, specifically those from Puerto Rico, with freer melodic and harmonic elements of progressive jazz.

During his time back in Puerto Rico with Batacumbele in the 1980s, he began to experiment with “bomba jazz,” a fusion of jazz and traditional Puerto Rican bomba. In 1993 he recorded his first album as a leader, Breakout. He continued collaborating with a variety of Latin Jazz artists, contributing Overtime Mambo to Hilton Ruiz’s Manhattan Mambo and Contra Viento y Mareo in Descarga Boricua, Vol. 1. In 1999, he released a live recording featuring a number of important New York Latin and Jazz artists, including bassist Andy Gonzalez, saxophonist Michael Brecker, among others.  The release of Pirates & Troubadours – At the Point, Vol. 1 was followed the next year with At The Point, Vol. 2. This project evolved into the Pirates Troubadours, an “Afro- Puerto Rican jazz band” including musicians such as Roberto Cepeda from the folklore Familia Cepeda of Puerto Rico, Milton Cardona and Anthony Carrillo on percussion and John Benitez, among others. The group performed at festivals around the world and released Carnival in San Juan in 2003, followed by From The Badlands in 2007.

Interest in Vázquez as a composer grew. He was the first artist to receive a composer’s commission (Iron Jungle) for the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, then a resident orchestra at Jazz at Lincoln Center. His first classical composition, Palomita – Afro-Caribbean Suite, which to this date, the first time Bomba and Plena were performed with a Chamber Orchestra, was commissioned by the Bronx Arts Ensemble and premiered at the Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture in the Bronx in 2004. In 2007, in a commission from the Bronx River Arts Center, he wrote Sube el Rio (River Rising) for his Mighty Pirate Orchestra for their 20th Anniversary “Bronx River Sounds” concert.

The same year, through a grant from The Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia, Vázquez was asked to expand Pirates Troubadours, and was commissioned to compose new music for a 19-piece, Afro-Puerto Rican Jazz Orchestra. The 2008 event was recorded live, resulting in Papo Vázquez Mighty Pirates Marooned/Aíslado, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album. The Mighty Pirates Orchestra continues to allow Vázquez the opportunity to blend multi-faceted compositions and trombone style with rhythms of Afro Caribbean origins and jazz. Sometimes joined by folk dancers that enhance the music, the orchestra has garnered rave reviews. Musical themes such as Yuba’ Jazz, Holande Pirata, Jibaro Waltz, Plena Funk and Mapeye Jazz are terms used to help describe his music. 

In 2009, Vázquez premiered a composition “Oasis” with the Bronx Arts Ensemble at its Memorial Day Concert. It was his seventh year writing for concerts, held annually in Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. This work grew into the expanded Oasis Project, which had its 2010 premiere at the Pregones Theater in the Bronx with the Pirates Troubadours performing with the Bronx Arts Ensemble and Multicultural Music Group. Vázquez has also shared his compositions with Ruben Blades (Tengan Fe/Antecedente), Hilton Ruiz (Manhattan Mambo) and Dave Valentin (Tropic Heat), among others.

His song “Baila Plena” from At The Point, Vol I. is featured on the soundtrack for Free Enterprise. Other movie credits include playing on the soundtracks for The Mambo Kings and Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues.

Papo Vázquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours
Papo Vázquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours

Selected Honors and Awards 

  • NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll – Best Latin 2020
  • Philadelphia Clef Club Jazz Award – Best Trombone 2015
  • National Endowment for the Arts Master Artist Award 2011
  • Grammy Nominated 2008 Papo Vazquez Marooned/Aislado Picaro Records
  • Grammy: Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Wayne Shorter’s Alegria (Verve Records), 2003
  • Grammy: Best Latin Jazz, Bebo Valdez Bebo de Cuba, 2005
  • Grammy: Best Tropical Latin, Ruben Blades Antecedente, 1990 
  • New York Times Top 10 Undeservedly Obscure Recordings
  • DownBeat Magazine Talent Deserving Wider Recognition, 1980 
  • Best Trombone Latin New York Magazine 1980, 1979

Discography

  • Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours Chapter 10: Breaking Cover, Picaro Records, 2020 
  • Papo Vazquez Quartet  GV J.S. Bach, Picaro Records, 2017
  • Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours Spirit Warrior, Picaro Records, 2015
  • Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours Oasis, Picaro Records, 2012
  • Niño Josele Española, Raices, 2011
  • Papo Vázquez The Mighty Pirates Marooned/Aislado, Picaro Records, Grammy Nomination, 2008 
  • Papo Vázquez Pirates Troubadours From The Badlands, Picaro Records, 2007 
  • Tego Calderon – The Underdog/El Subestimado, Jiggiri Records, 2006 
  • Shakira & Wyclef Jean FIFA World Soccer 2006 Closing Ceremony Theme Song Bamboo, 2006 
  • Ray Barretto Standards Rican-ditioned, Zoho Music, 2006 
  • Chico O’Farrill Pure Emotion, Fantasy Records, 2006
  • Freddie Cole Rio de Janeiro Blues, Telarc Jazz, 2006
  • Los Pleneros de la 21 Para Todos Ustedes, Smithsonian Folkways, Grammy Nomination, 2005
  • Bebo Valdez Bebo de Cuba, Calle 54 Records, Grammy, Best Latin Jazz Album, 2005  
  • Papo Vázquez Pirates Troubadours Carnival in San Juan, CuBop Records, 2003 
  • Wayne Shorter Alegria, Verve Records, Grammy, Best Jazz Instrumental Album, 2003
  • Jack Bruce Shadows In The Air, Sanctuary Records Group, 2001
  • New York Latin Jazz All Stars Feliz Navidad, CAP, 2000  
  • Chico O’Farrill Carambola Fantasy Records, 2000
  • Chico O’Farrill Calle 54, Calle 54 Records, 2000 
  • Papo Vázquez Pirates Troubadours At the Point Vol. 2 Cubop Records, 2000
  • Papo Vázquez Pirates Troubadours At the Point Vol. I Cubop Records, 1999
  • Milton Cardona Cambucha American Clave, 1999
  • Arturo O’Farrill Bloodlines Fantasy Records, 1999
  • Chucho Valdes Live (Bronx Lebanon) RMM Records, 1998
  • Jammin’ in the Bronx Papo Vázquez Band, RMM Records, 1996
  • Chart Busters with Dr. Lonnie Smith, Lenny White, Hiram Bullock, Papo Vázquez , NYC 1995
  • Hilton Ruiz Hands on Percussion RMM Records, 1995
  • Steve Berrios First World Fantasy Records, 1994
  • Dave Valentin Tropic Heat GRP, 1994
  • Juan Luis Guerra 440 Fogarate Karen Records, 1994 
  • Manny Oquendo & Libre Mejor Que Nunca Milestone, 1994
  • Descarga Boricua Descarga Boricua Tierrazo Records, 1993 
  • Papo Vázquez Breakout Timeless Records, 1992 
  • Ruben Blades and Son del Solar Amor y Control CBS Records, 1992 
  • Hilton Ruiz Manhattan Mambo Telarc Jazz,1992 
  • Ruben Blades and Son del Solar Caminando  Columbia Records, 1991
  • Tito Puente 100th” Mambo King RMM Records, 1991 
  • Ruben Blades Antecedente Elektra Records, 1990 
  • Tito Puente Out of this World Concord, Picante, 1990
  • Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues movie Soundtrack, 1990
  • Jerry Gonzalez Fort Apache Obatala Enja Records, 1989
  • Jerry Gonzalez Fort Apache The River is Deep Live in Berlin Enja Records, 1983
  • Batacumbele En Aquellos Tiempos Tierrazo Records, 1983
  • Bobby Valentin Presenta al Cano Estremera Bronco Records, 1982
  • Batacumbele Con Un Poco de Songo Tierrazo Records, 1981
  • Manny Oquendo Libre Increible Salsoul Records, 1981
  • Jerry Gonzalez Fort Apache Ya Yo Me Cure American Clave, 1980
  • Ray Barretto Ricanstruction Fania Records, 1979
  • Slide Hampton World of Trombone” WEST 54, 1979
  • Libre  Los Lideres de la Salsa Salsoul Records, 1979
  • Fania All Stars Habana Jam Fania Records, 1979
  • Hector La Voe Feliz Navidad, Fania Records, 1979 
  • Mon Rivera Vuelvo a Vivir VAYA Records, 1978
  • Willie Colon & Ruben Blades Siembra Fania Records, 1978
  • Willie Colon & Ruben Blades Metiendo Mano Fania Records, 1977
  • Willie Colon & Celia Cruz Only They Could Have Made This Album, Fania Records, 1977
  • Hector La Voe De Ti Depende, Fania Records, 1976
  • Conjunto Libre Con Salsa y Con Ritmo Salsoul Records, 1976
  • Larry Harlow El Judio Maravilloso Fania Records, 1975

Web Publisher. Founder, Editor & Webmaster for Latin Jazz Network, World Music Report & That Canadian Magazine. A passionate and committed communicator with a sensibility for the arts based in Toronto, Canada.

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