Papo Vazquez Bio 2018
Trombonist, composer and arranger Papo Vázquez is 40 year anniversary into a career spanning
jazz, Latin, Afro-Caribbean and classical music and recordings.
Musical Director for the National Puerto Rican Day Parade Orchestra, (NYC) 2016,2017,2018
March is Music 2015 and 2018, @Pregones Theater, J.S. Bachs Goldberg Variations for Jazz
Kennedy Center Iberian Suite, Mighty Pirates Troubadours March 2015
Invited to lead and direct “The Presidents Own” US Marine Band Afro Caribbean Jazz performance,
in Washington, DC. 2013
In May 2013, was commissioned by Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and Symphony
Space to compose new music for “Nueva Musica” concert series, in New York.
In 2011, was presented with a Latino Masters Award by the Pregones Theater under The National
Endowment for the Arts American Masterpieces: Presenting program.
In 2010, was commissioned by Mr. Wynton Marsalis to compose a work inspired by Cuban painter
Wilfredo Lam, he conducted and performed with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Orchestra on The Jazz
and Art concert.
In 2008, won a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album for Papo Vázquez’ Mighty Pirates
2008 recording Marooned/Aíslado.
In 2007, was commisioned by The Bronx River Arts Center to compose a new piece titled River
Rising for their 20th anniversary.
Vázquez was born in 1958 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 visiting artists such as Eddie
Palmieri. At only 17, he moved to New York and was hired to play for trumpet player Chocolate
Armentero's. Soon after began playing and recording with top artists in the salsa scene like The
Fania All-Stars, Ray Barretto, Willie Colón, Grupo Folklorico Nuyorquino, Eddie Palmieri, Larry
Harlow, and Hector La Voe. Vázquez also became a key player in New York’s burgeoning Latin jazz
scene of the late 1970's, performing with Jerry Gonzalez, Hilton Ruiz, and more. He began
studying with Slide Hampton, eventually recording and performing for Slide Hampton's World of
Vázquez went on to perform with jazz luminaries Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Foster, Mel
Lewis, Mario Rivera, Hilton Ruiz and Milton Cardona, and to tour Europe with the Ray Charles
Orchestra. By the age of 22, Vázquez had traveled the globe.
He was a founding member of Jerry Gonzalez' Fort Apache and Conjunto Libre as well as of
Puerto Rico’s popular Latin fusion band Batacumbele, performing and recording several albums
with the group 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 mixture 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
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, saxophonists Willie Williams
and Michael Brecker, and drummer Horacio El Negro Hernandez. The release of Pirates &
Troubadours - At the Point, Vol. 1 was followed 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 famous Familia Cepeda from Puerto Rico, Milton Cardona and
Anthony Carrillo on percussion, John Benitez on bass and Dafnis Prieto on drums, 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
has not been credited with being 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, on 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. They are known for Papo’s variations on traditional themes, and terms like Yuba' Jazz,
Holande Pirata, Jibaro Waltz, Plena Funk and Mapeye Jazz are 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 this concert, 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),
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’
Selected Honors and Awards
Phialdelphia Clef Club Jazz Award - Best Trombone 2015
Grammy Nominated 2008 – Papo Vazquez Marooned/Aislado on his Picaro Records
Grammy: Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Wayne Shorter’s Alegria (Verve Records)
Grammy: Bebo Valdez – Bebo de Cuba
Recognized by Los Pleneros de La 21 for his contributions to Puerto Rican Culture.
New York Times’ list of "Top 10 Undeservedly Obscure Recordings”
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 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
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