Vázquez born Angel R. Vazquez, 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.
At the age of 15, Vázquez was performing with local Latin bands in Philadelphia. 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, Larry Harlow, and Hector La Voe. Vázquez became a key player in New York’s burgeoning Latin jazz scene of the late 1970’s, He began studying with Slide Hampton, eventually recording and performing for Slide Hampton’s World of Trombones.
Vázquez went on to perform with jazz luminaries Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Foster, Mel Lewis, Hilton Ruiz 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 Puerto Rico’s popular Latin fusion band Batacumbele. Performed and recorded several albums with Batacumbele, 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.
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. His appreciation and knowledge of the indigenous music of the Caribbean 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 in Puerto Rico with Batacumbele during 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 Mar y Mareo Descarga Boricua, Vol. 1
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.
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. Vázquez has also shared his compositions with Ruben Blades (Tengan Fe/Antecedente), Hilton Ruiz (Manhattan Mambo) and Dave Valentin (Tropic Heat), among others.