Trombonist, composer, arranger, Grammy Nominee, NEA Master Artist has 45+ years of career spanning Jazz, Latin and Afro Caribbean music.
Musical Director for the National Puerto Rican Day Parade Orchestra, (NYC/WABC) 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
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
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
Phialdelphia Clef Club Jazz Award - Best Trombone 2015
National Endowment for the Arts Master Artist 2011
Grammy Nominated 2008 – Papo Vazquez Marooned/Aislado on his Picaro Records
Grammy: Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Wayne Shorter’s Alegria (Verve Records)
Grammy: Best Latin Jazz - Bebo Valdez – Bebo de Cuba
Grammy: Best Tropical Latin – Ruben Blades – Antecedente
Recognized by Los Pleneros de La 21 for his contributions to Puerto Rican Culture.
New York Times’ list of "Top 10 Undeservedly Obscure Recordings”
Trombonazo Award 2009
Taller de Jazz Don Pedro in Puerto Rico Award
DownBeat Magazine’s list of “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
Papo Vázquez The Mighty Pirates - Marooned/Aislado, Picaro Records, Grammy Nomination 2008
Papo Vázquez Pirates Troubadours - From The Badlands, Picaro Records, 2007
El Niño Josele - 2011
Tego Calderon - The Underdog/El Subestimado, Jiggiri Records, 2006
Shakira & Wyclef Jean - World Soccer Final Theme (“Bamboo”), 2006
Ray Barretto - Standards Rican-ditioned, Zoho Music,2006
Los Pleneros de la 21 Para Todos Ustedes, Smithsonian Folkways, 2005 - Grammy Nomination,
Bebo Valdez - Bebo de Cuba, Calle 54, 2005 - Grammy, Best Latin Jazz Album
Papo Vázquez Pirates Troubadours - Carnival in San Juan, Cu-Bop Records, 2003
Wayne Shorter - Alegria, Verve, 2003 – Grammy, Best Jazz Instrumental Album
Jack Bruce - Shadows In The Air, Sanctuary Records Group, 2001
Freddie Cole Rio de Janeiro Blues, Telarc
Chico O'Farrill "Carambola" Fantasy
Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues movie soundtrack
Papo Vázquez "Pirates & Troubadours - At the Point Vol. I" Cubop
Papo Vázquez "Pirates & Troubadours - At the Point Vol. 2" Cubop
Milton Cardona "Cambucha" American Clave
Arturo O'Farrill "Bloodlines" Fantasy
Chucho Valdes "All Stars Bronx Lebanon New Directions Project" RMM
"Jammin' in the Bronx" Papo Vázquez Band, Chucho Valdes & The Machito Orq RMM
Chart Busters with Dr. Lonnie Smith, Lenny White, Hiram Bullock, Craig Handy, Papo Vázquez, et.al. Chico O'Farrill "Pure Emotion" Fantasy
Steve Berrios "First World" Fantasy
Descarga Boricua "Descarga Boricua" Tierrazo
Dave Valentin "Tropic Heat" GRP
Juan Luis Guerra 440 "Fogarate" 440
Papo Vázquez "Breakout" Timeless
Ruben Blades "Amor y Control" "Antecedente" & "Caminando" Sony
Hilton Ruiz "Mannhatan Mambo" Telarc & "Hands on Percusion"
RMM Tito Puente "Out of this World" Tito Puente "100th" RMM
Jerry Gonzalez Fort Apache Band "Obatala" "Live in Berlin" Enja & "Ya Yo Me Cure" American Clave
New York Latin Jazz All Stars "Feliz Navidad"
Bobby Valentin “Presenta al Cano Estremera” – Bronco Records
Batacumbele "Con Un Poco de Songo" & "En Aquellos Tiempos" Tierrazo
Ray Barretto "Ricanstruction" Fania
Slide Hampton "World of Trombones" WEST54
Chico O'Farrill "Calle 54"
Fania All Stars "Habana Jam" Fania
Willie Colon & Ruben Blades "Siembra" Fania
Willie Colon & Celia Cruz Fania
Hector La Voe "De Ti Depende" – Feliz Navidad, Fania
Mon Rivera "Vuelvo a Vivir" Fania