Papo Vázquez is a Puerto Rican jazz trombonist who is an NEA Latino Master and Grammy nominee with a long, storied career. He connects Puerto Rico’s bomba tradition with jazz, and the 1970s golden age of New York salsa.
His band is the Mighty Pirates Troubadours.
Papo Vázquez in New York City
Puerto Rican Holiday Jazz Parranda
Vázquez was born in Philadelphia on February 24, 1958. He was raised in Philly and Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. He also has family in Barranquitas, a town in Puerto Rico’s Cordillera Central, the island’s mountain heartland. Many people think of Puerto Rico as beaches, but the heart of Puerto Rico is in the mountains.
Papo claims J.J. Johnson and John Coltrane as important musical influences.
Vázquez moved to New York City as a teenager where he performed with Latin music legends including Héctor Lavoe, Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri and Willie Colón. In his 20s, Papo was already touring the world with great Latin bands.
He is a founding member of the Fort Apache Band, Conjunto Libre and Batacumbele which mixed Cuban songo (Los Van Van rumba and rock) with jazz in the Puerto Rican music community.
Papo plays in Fernando Trueba’s classic New York Latin Jazz movie “Calle 54” (2000). He also played on the soundtracks for “The Mambo Kings” (1992) and Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues” (1990).
His “Palomita, Afro-Caribbean Suite” was the first use of Puerto Rican bomba and plena in a classical composition. He premiered it with the Bronx Arts Ensemble at Hostos Center in 2004.
Papo is a regular music director for the National Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Mighty Pirates Troubadours
Papo’s music often has a bomba bottom with jazz on top. He sounds like a New York jazz band in the Puerto Rican rainforest. As a leader Papo founded a band called Bomba-Jazz which evolved into The Mighty Pirates Troubadours.
The bomba jazz concept makes a lot of sense. Jazz is from the Caribbean city of New Orleans. Bomba is the Afro-Puerto Rican drum, song and dance tradition that has become a marker of identity for many young Puerto Ricans. As Caribbean traditions, the two go together very well.
We call it all “salsa” now, but bomba’s core rhythm “sicá” (bom, pa-pa, ta…), is one of the elements that distinguishes Cuban pachanga from New York Puerto Rican salsa. We’ve noticed that if a song has sicá in it, Puerto Ricans will automatically dance to it. It’s in our blood, somehow.
Puerto Rican legends Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera were among the first to bring bomba rhythms into salsa. [We are writing this in Santurce, a few blocks from Llorens where Cortijo is from, and Calle Calma where Rivera is from.] William Cepeda of Loíza Aldea, and others like Héctor “Coco” Barez (Calle 13) of Santurce with his Laberinto del Coco project follow in Papo’s, Rivera’s and Cortijo’s footsteps.
This is great Puerto Rican jazz. Papo Vázquez is a national treasure. If you get a chance to see him live, don’t miss it. ¡WEPA!
The Mighty Pirates Troubadours lineup is:
- Papo Vázquez – Trombone, Leader
- José Mangual – Vocals, Percussion
- Iván Renta – Sax
- Rick Germanson – Piano
- Ariel Robles – Bass
- Alvester Garnett – Drums
- Reinaldo De Jésus – Percussion
- José Claussell – Percussion
We think the band’s name has some Caribbean humor in it. From the Puerto Rican point of view, pirates were the Spaniards who took over Borikén. They brought the Spanish cancion which had connections to the medieval troubadours of northern Spain, southern France and northern Italy. In Puerto Rico troubadours became trovadores de Puerto Rico. They are still active on the island and do things that look like rap battles. But now if you flip things around, we are the pirates coming to take over the United States. Just kidding, it’s our country too.
New York Venues
Papo Vázquez and the Mighty Pirates Troubadours has played at: