Trombonist, composer, arranger 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 J@LC 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/Aíslado, 2008
Presented with the NEA Master Artist Award by Pregones Theater 2011
Lead Master Class at UCLA 2022
Lead Master Class at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music 2022
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.
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.
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
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