In 1989, the U.S. Congress passed Resolution 57, declaring: “Jazz is hereby designated as a rare and valuable national American treasure, to which we should devote our attention, support, and resources to make certain it is preserved, understood, and promulgated.”
It was a way to pay governmental lip service to jazz as an art form; more important, it sent federal funding jazz’s way.
On September 5th, 2016, the Panama Jazz Festival became Law 312 of the Republic of Panama.
The law guarantees funds of at least $250,000 in each year, beginning in 2018, for the festival, which is held annually in January. It stipulates that “the government of Panama recognizes the Panama Jazz Festival is an event that creates a space for cultural exchange, that provides education and social awareness, where people of all ages, cultural and social backgrounds meet to share interdisciplinary ideas about music of the highest academic quality.”
Word of this development came my way via email, from Patricia Zarate, a saxophonist and the wife of pianist Danilo Pérez, who founded the festival in his hometown of Panama City in 2004. According to Zarate, the support will go to the activities that benefit Panamanian citizens the most: the educational component and the outdoor free concert.
I covered the festival for The Wall Street Journal in 2006. (My complete article is pasted below.)
Back then, Pérez told me, “The spirit of jazz has always been here, but it’s been sleeping for years.” And I noticed that his festival was clearly a labor of love, with good will and sheer dedication substituting for budget at times. Continue reading “Panama Jazz Festival Gets Written Into National Law”
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. Continue reading “Danilo Pérez's Dream for Panama Keeps Growing”