I was pleased to see Melena Ryzik’s piece in today’s New York Times, reporting on the Panama Jazz Festival founded by pianist Danilo Pérez 12 years ago.
In it she writes:
…here he was, at 1:30 a.m. Friday, sitting behind the grand piano in the intimate Danilo’s Jazz Club, the city’s only performance space dedicated exclusively to jazz, now packed with friends and visitors. He was joined by John Patitucci, the Shorter quartet bassist, and a host of international musicians and students, eager to improvise alongside the masters. Nêgah Santos, 24, a Brazilian powerhouse in denim shorts, gave her congas a workout; Samuel Batista, 24, a Panamanian in his third year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, drew full-throated cheers with his saxophone. The jam lasted until closing time, and afterward Mr. Pérez gathered his young charges at a cocktail table to dispense encouragement and wisdom. “This kind of thing wakes you up, right?” he said, grinning.
Pérez’s festival is itself a wake-up call about several things: the pan-American identity of jazz; the role of Panama within that legacy; the role musicians, concerts and music education can play in civic uplift, economic development and cross-cultural relations; not to mention the aesthetic future of the music he makes.
As I wrote in The Wall Street Journal, when I reported on the third edition of Pérez’s festival:
Mr. Pérez, who is 48, is not alone in seeking a deepened and more detailed understanding of the influences throughout the Western hemisphere that have shaped jazz. Yet he is among the most diligent and talented of his generation to take up that task. And he has highlighted “the almost hidden voice of Panama,” he said, “which was always present.”
Pérez’s current playing and his outlook about if is profoundly influenced by more than a decade as pianist in the wonderful quartet led by saxophonist Wayne Shorter. But the inspiration for his festival, and for the arc of his own music is rooted in earlier mentors. Here’s an excerpt from my Wall Street Journal “Cultural Conversation” piece with Pérez last year:
Mr. Pérez grew up in a household filled with music as well as discussions of social purpose. Both his parents were teachers. His father is also a well-known singer. His mother was active in Panama’s Democratic Revolutionary Party. When he first settled into his studies at Berklee, “I wasn’t thinking about Panamanian music,” he said. “I was focused on learning American jazz.” He recalled a moment early in his tenure with Gillespie. “I was trying to really play bebop, and Dizzy said: ‘Yeah, that’s good, but who are you? Where are you from?’ He taught me that bridging cultures was a natural thing to do.”