Hispanic Heritage Month: Vermont musician Ray Vega aims to liberate listeners through his music

"This music has a rich history, a really rich history, and we need to learn about it."


When Ray Vega performs, he wants his music to have an impact.

The Puerto Rican musician from New York City now calls Burlington, Vermont, home. That's where he regularly entertains audiences with Latin jazz at Hotel Vermont.


"I really feel that when you're moving people in that way, you are definitely getting to them," Vega said of his performances.

Vega shares the sounds of his heritage by playing at venues across the country.

"This music has a rich history, a really rich history," he said. "And we need to learn about it."

The world-renowned trumpet player learned a lot about music from listening to the radio while growing up in the 1960s. He studied rock, soul and salsa but it was his family who taught him about his own culture.

"When you enter your house ... you were in Puerto Rico," Vega said. "It was like being in Puerto Rico — the smells, the food. But then, you would also hear the Grateful Dead in the background from one of my brothers listening to it."

Living in New York City, going to concerts was a big part of his childhood.

"I would go out as a young kid to see the Tito Puente Orchestra or the Machito Orchestra, they were playing for dancers but then they would have numbers where they were doing Latin rhythms," Vega said. "Latin music but with jazz improvisations over it, so I was drawn to that."

That attraction led him to attend LaGuardia, where he mastered the trumpet. Eventually, he would begin playing with Latin jazz icons like percussionist Ray Barretto.

"He'd go, 'Raymond, wherever you go, when you pull your trumpet out to play you have to remember your family in Puerto Rico,'" Vega said, "'because you're representing a long lineage of people that came from Puerto Rico and you have to think about those people.'"

That's exactly what he thinks of every time he picks up his trumpet in Burlington whether playing for a crowd or teaching students at the University of Vermont, where he teaches.

Vega continues to inspire other area musicians and has an impact on the local jazz scene by regularly playing at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. He is hopeful to help listeners learn more about his history when he plays.

"When I play my horn, I want them to feel a sense of liberty," he said. "Liberty, freedom and happiness. What more does anybody want?"