San Rafael
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San Rafael

Band Latin Jazz


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"Vasquez Breaks Through to Fame"

After San Rafael, the fusion/Latin-rock band led by extraordinary guitarist Rafael Vasquez, finished its set at the recent Franklin Jazz Festival, it received two standing ovations and its first-ever encore demand. It was a satisfying moment for Vasquez after pounding the Nashville pavement for nearly 20 years.

"I couldn't have written a better script myself," he said. "It was fantastic. I started crying. It kind of makes up for all the [stuff] you have to put up with in this business."

It was icing on the cake for San Rafael, who has also recently opened for Los Lobos at UpTown Mix to great response. However, this is hardly new territory for Vasquez. Since his move to Nashville with his wife Elaine 18 years ago from Knoxville, the 48-year-old has opened up for guitar god Joe Satriani, El Chicano and John Abercrombie at the Exit/In. "

It's always good to fatten up your resume a little bit," Vasquez said laughing with deep sincerity.

While he struggled to gain attention from anyone on the Row, Vasquez worked in the kitchen at Red Lobster, plugging away on the weekend and his days off with his original band and its smaller cousin Trio San Rafael, a jazz outfit that has become a regular feature at venues and private functions around town.

Due to the booking success of the trio and the momentum gained for his original music, Vasquez quit his job and is a full-time musician for the first time.

"I've been lucky. This has been the best year so far. Everything I'm doing now I've wanted to do since I moved here. I'm just a late bloomer. My best songs are just coming out."

While it might seem logical that Vasquez would have a large Latino following in town, other than a little radio play on the local Latin station, little of that community comes to hear him due to his overwhelming rock and jazz flavor. However, his foundation was in Latin music from his Texas upbringing.

"San Antonio is like the Motown of Tex-Mex music. I started playing with accordion players long before Los Lobos made it fashionable, not that it ever really was fashionable. I graduated to larger and better orchestras when I was 21. That's when I got turned on to John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, George Benson and these guys. I also got into Tito Puente and salsa music. At the same time I learned about Bob Marley," he said.

All those influences can be heard on his 2000 release Fiesta Day, which has sold over 1,200 units locally and seen radio play on the now-defunct Phoenix, WMOT, Lightning 100, and even 92.9 The Mix. Along with his robust live work, with nearly every day of the calendar booked for next month, Vasquez has also become an in-demand flamenco guitarist for session work on Music Row records.

While he's far from being a superstar, Vasquez admitted, "I'm glad somebody at least is noticing that I'm here." - Nashville City Paper


Fiesta Day
Spain in my Veins



Rafael Vasquez was born in San Antonio, Texas -- the heart of the Tejano music scene. His childhood was spent in San Antonio and California. During his twenties Vasquez performed throughout the Southwest with Little Joe y la Familia, the first Tejano band to sign with a major label and the first to win a Grammy. He also played with Sunny Ozuna and the Sunliners, another major Tejano act, and with Augustin Ramírez, who was inducted into the Tejano Hall of Fame in 1997.

Since 1981 Rafael Vasquez has lived in Nashville where he performs regularly with his band, the San Rafael Band, and his trio, the San Rafael Trio. Vasquez is a talented songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist who is comfortable with a variety of instruments and styles ranging from conjunto's bajo sexto to jazz to classical to blues and rock. He is also respected as a bandleader by the local music community. The San Rafael Band has played such local events as Cheekwood's El Dia de los Muertos, Frist Fridays, the 2003 July 4th Celebration at Riverfront Park, Wine on the River, a Taste of Music City, and the Tennessee State Fair. The Band has opened for Michael McDonald and Kevin Eubanks at the Franklin Jazz Festival and for Los Lobos at the Uptown Mix.

In the last few years Vasquez has begun to work with students at Belmont University and in the Metro Nashville Public Schools to share his knowledge of music and Hispanic culture. At Belmont he assisted Professor David Herrera with Música Caliente, the first project of the Belmont's student record label, Acklen Records. For his work with that project Vasquez received a plaque of appreciation from the Tennessee Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He also participated in the first Belmont Latino Street Fair held in April 2005. Recently he demonstrated guitar techniques for students at Glencliff High School.

Fluent in both English and Spanish, Rafael Vasquez is a tremendous asset to the Música de la gente – Music of the People program. His professionalism, excellent musicianship, hands-on experiences with Tejano, conjunto, and norteño music, and involvement in the local Latino community make him invaluable.