Prolific Bakersfield trombonist dies at 46

Musician Joe Vazquez plays trombone during a concert in Bakersfield, Calif. (Photo credit: Grant Simpson)

Known for his big sound and expert musical knowledge, trombonist Armando "Joe" Vazquez Jr. died in his sleep on July 26.

Vazquez played in many bands over the years but was best known as a founding member of the popular Latin-ska band Mento Buru.

"Joe and I were pretty much thick as thieves our entire friendship," said Matt Munoz.

Munoz met Vazquez while playing in the Bakersfield College marching band in the late 1980s. The two went on to found Mento Buro, a staple of Bakersfield's music scene.

"He just had this monster sound," said Munoz of Vazquez's trombone tone.

Munoz credits his own success to Vazquez, saying, "My musical career would not have happened without Joe as my teammate. He was my brother and we worked on everything together."

Vazquez was also a dedicated music educator, giving lessons and advice to both young and old musicians.

"A lot of my growth as a musician and a person came from him being that force that was always pushing me to be better," said trumpet player John Cleveland.

It was a similar experience for Carlos Contreras, who played with Vazquez in the band Salsa Solutions. Contreras said the first time he ever played live on stage was beside Vazquez, who gave him the courage and confidence he need to perform.

"Joe just always told me, 'Yes you can! You'll be alright,'" remembered Contreras.

Cleveland believes that energy and commitment has played an integral part in the Bakersfield music community.

"Without Joe and Mento Buru and the force they've been in the local music scene, I think a lot of that would have died out," said Cleveland.

Munoz agreed, adding, "He's not just a footnote in the evolution of the Bakersfield music scene. He stands as a rock, a foundation."

A service is planned for Vazquez at 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 5, at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. A Celebration of Life will be held after at the Elements Venue at 3401 Chester Ave.

Given the sudden passing, the family has set up a GoFundMe account to help raise money for the service. If you would like to donate, click here.

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