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In Conversation with Trombonist, Composer, Arranger Papo Vázquez



Trombonist, Composer, Arranger Papo Vázquez
Trombonist, Composer, Arranger Papo Vázquez

Bronxites and New Yorkers love their holiday traditions. Holiday Jazz & Latin Jazz Parranda celebrates those traditions, keeping them alive by bringing communities together. Grammy Award-nominee and NEA Master Artist Papo Vázquez will celebrate those traditions with Parranda music as well as traditional Jazz and Latin Jazz-influenced holiday songs. A holiday celebration of inclusivity and cultural togetherness. The concert will feature your favorite holiday songs, new arrangements, new songs and more. For Families and For All Ages.

Saturday, December 9 at 8:00 pm
Repertory Theatre / Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture
450 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY
Reserved Seating – All Seats: $10 – Child/Students: $5
Box Office: (718) 518-4455


Papo Vázquez Holiday Jazz & Latin Jazz Parranda
Papo Vázquez Holiday Jazz & Latin Jazz Parranda

Papo 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.

I had the opportunity of talking with Papo Vázquez about his upcoming Holiday Jazz & Latin Jazz Parranda at Hostos Center next Saturday, December 9, 2023 at 8:00 pm. He will perform with his band, The Mighty Pirates Troubadours and some special guests. Here is our conversation:

Danilo Navas: Hello Papo, a pleasure talking to you about this upcoming Holiday Jazz & Latin Jazz Parranda at Hostos Center. For how long have you been doing it? How did it get started?

Papo Vázquez: I started doing the Parranda in Hartford, Connecticut, six or seven years ago. It all started in my house. The whole concept, what we’re doing at Hostos was actually started in my house. You know, I was raised in the parranda tradition. We used to give parrandas during the Christmas season with my family. My father was a troubadour. My uncle was a troubadour. My grandfather was a troubadour. They all played guitars and … You know that’s part of our culture.

I think it was in 1999, when we first bought a new a new apartment, where we live now, and I thought, there’s something missing during this season … wow, I haven’t done a parranda in years. So, I wanted to invite all my friends, my neighbors, but the thing was, I couldn’t fit 75 people in my apartment, it’s like the floor would start to move … but we did it anyway. It was crazy, my friends had never seen such a thing in their whole freaking lives. My gathering was a multicultural parranda. We did the traditional Puerto Rican traditional Christmas songs, right in Spanish. We did one or two sets of Christmas songs mixed with Jazz, you know, a jazz set.

And then we did it one … one or two more times at the Bronx River Arts Center. And that one got big. Now we had a big party of 100 people or more. And then we were also doing it every year at the Detroit Jazz Festival, and with the University of Detroit, and you know until the pandemic hit and then that stopped, you know. For some years, I was pitching it to Hostos Center, but nothing happened, until last year, when we did it.

DN: Who’s gonna be in your band this year? Who are those special guests joining you this time?

PV: This year we have Jesús (Super Chú) Rivera on cuatro, we’re gonna fly him in from Puerto Rico as an invited guest artist. And we’re bringing back Camille Thurman on vocals and sax. She’s a marvelous singer and musician; and the marvelous Rodney Jones on guitar, right. And of course, The Mighty Pirates Troubadours: Raul Ríos on vocals and trumpet, Iván Renta on tenor sax, Rick Germanson on piano, Ariel Robles on bass, Alvester C. Garnett on drums, Carlos Maldonado on percussion and vocals, Reinaldo De Jesús on percussion and vocals and the great José Claussell on percussion.

DN: Are you currently working on new compositions? Possibly coming up with a new album soon?

PV: I’ve been working on some new compositions, but because, you know, my recordings and my records are … they are all original compositions. So, it takes me a while to write all this music and … Nowadays I write a whole bunch of stuff and then I decide what’s going to go on the record and that takes time. With this new recording we’re actually going … We’re scheduled to go to the studio in January. That’s right. Yeah, it’s music well thought. Well put together and, yeah, that takes time. It’s not like you have to do a recording every year. You have to take your time and all that … And great music comes out.

I have a whole bunch of live stuff that I’ve been recording live with the band at Disney for many years, so one of these days I’ll probably break out a live recording with The Pirates. 

DN: Tell me a little bit more about the music that you will play at the at the Latin Jazz Parranda. I know you’ve been talking about the combination of the multicultural thing. 

PV: Well, as I said before, it’s a combination of traditional Christmas music, and we always finish it off with a parranda at the end, which is a very Puerto Rican tradition. If you take holiday songs, but you embed them with the with new stuff and with American tunes, and it could be in the Latin jazz flavor or could not be in the Latin jazz flavor, it could be just straight ahead. That’s the thing with The Mighty Pirates, we’re very versatile, so at any given moment, we could go anywhere. We could … we could do a straight-ahead jazz tune, or we could play Santa Claus is coming to town as a mambo, you know, and at a high-quality musical level.

DN: Is this a family concert? A concert for all ages?

PV: That’s right. That’s right. And this is an event for families, for kids, for all ages, all inclusive. It’s for the young babies like me, you know. It’s a fun concert to experience, and be together with your family, enjoy the music, a celebration to get into the holiday spirit.

Papo Vázquez Holiday Jazz & Latin Jazz Parranda at Hostos Center - December 9, 2023 at 8:00pm
Papo Vázquez Holiday Jazz & Latin Jazz Parranda
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