One on One with Danilo Pérez: 10th Panama Jazz Festival

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The Panama Jazz Festival was founded in September 2003 by Panamanian Grammy-winning pianist Danilo Pérez. A Fulbright Scholar, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Cultural Ambassador of Panama, and educator, founder of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute at Berklee College of Music (MA, USA)

Perez founded the festival with the mission of bettering the lives of people through shared musical experiences as listeners, on stage and in the classrooms. Perez’s stated vision for the event is that “By offering performances and educational activities of the highest order, as well as practical, hands on training in the music and entertainment business, the Panama Jazz Festival aims to inspire and educate while providing tools and opportunities to build a better future for individuals and their communities.”

As such, and while the Festival annually offers a rich program of concerts by leading international jazz musicians, the emphasis is on music education. It has become the largest music education event in the region. The Panama Jazz Festival provides a week of master classes by some of the finest institutions in the field, including Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory, the Golandsky Piano Institute, and the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico. The event has also become a center for auditions for admissions and scholarships for the participating institutions. Other institutions that have participated in the festival include the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Sienna Jazz Foundation, and the Paris Conservatory.

In just ten years, the festival has become a cultural tourism attraction that has already enticed to Panama more than 150,000 people from all over the world. The Festival has also announced more than 2,000,000 dollars in scholarships and more than 10,000 students, many of them international, have taken advantage of the Festival’s educational programs. The festival supports the year-round educational programs of Danilo Perez Foundation, which brings art and music to children from extremely poor communities in the Republic of Panama. (Taken from Wikipedia)

Interview by Danilo Navas

Recently, I had the opportunity of interviewing Danilo Pérez about the Panama Jazz Festival, which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary next January 2013.

LJN: Hello Danilo, thank you for giving us the opportunity of talking to you about the Panama Jazz Festival. I’m sure Latin Jazz Network visitors will appreciate your commentaries and will be very interested in learning more about this great event that takes place annually in January, in the capital city of your country, Panama. 10 years ago, you created and organized the first edition of the Panama Jazz Festival, a huge and challenging project in all aspects. When you think back about those times what comes to mind?

DP: When I think back on the time I organized the first festival I think about my life then, how I was about to have my first daughter while delivering another baby, the festival itself! I was 10 years younger, and I could handle 2 babies!

LJN: Are you surprised at the exponential growing of the festival over this 10-year period? Had you actually envisioned the festival becoming such an important event, not only for Panama, but for Latin America and US?

DP: I am surprised of the growth of the festival and I am mostly surprised by the panamanian people, young and old, rich and poor. How they have learned to appreciate jazz at the deepest level. We have a deep connection with jazz historically and emotionally. Many great jazz musicians have panamanian roots: Randy Weston, Eric Dolphy, Luis Rusell (Musical Director for Louis Armstrong Band), Sonny White (pianist for Billy Holiday), Billy Cobham…

LJN: As we say in baseball jargon, you have all the bases covered: the festival offers performances at the top level, with paid and free concerts; it’s also a venue for new talent to participate and shine; it does promote tourism and commerce, as Panama becomes the Jazz Capital of Latin America during the festival; and then one of the most important components of this event is the educational one, split in two aspects: it exposes the public to great music and artists from many places and diverse styles, and it does offer previously non-existing opportunities to students who don’t have the means to pay for their education.

Let’s talk first about the humongous task of financing the festival, involving the government, private agencies and private businesses. How could you organize all these sectors? How hard it was to sell the idea of the festival?

DP: The idea is hard to sell. We have a lot of support from many entities, but it still does not cover the cost of the festival. The growth of the sponsorship has not been growing in direct relationship with the public growth and that is a challenge every single year. It takes our team 12 months to organize the sponsorship sector.

LJN: Volunteers are surely a very important element in the organization and execution of the festival. Can you expand on this topic?

DP: Volunteers are very important, we have managed thousands of volunteers since 2003. Volunteers grow into staff members and many times into Coordinators who manage an entire department. We have volunteers that are 14 years old up to people on their 70’s. From musicians to psychologists to engineers. National and international.

LJN: The Fundación Danilo Pérez plays a pivotal role in all aspects of the festival. What’s exactly the role of the foundation? How does it fuse with the festival?

DP: The Foundation receives financial support from the festival and with that support works all year long taking children out of extreme poverty through musical programs all over Panama.

10th Panama Jazz Festival – January 14-19, 2013

LJN: Let’s talk about the artists who participate as performers and clinicians. How can you manage to get together so many talented musicians and educators? What’s the process you follow to select those ones who participate?

DP: I travel to most jazz festivals in the world and teach all year long, so most of the musicians that come to the festival are my friends, or I know them professionally. The same with educators. I direct the Berklee Global Jazz Institute at Berklee College of Music and before that I taught at the New England Conservatory for 15 years. In total I have been teaching for about 25 years, so I have access to great educators.

LJN: The educational component of the festival is key to the success of it. For the public in general, who participates as an active audience, and for the students who participate in workshops, performances and competing for sholarships. How does it all work in conjunction? How do you raise the sensibility of the people? How do you make them appreciate Jazz as a form of art? or as a popular artistic expression?
And on the other hand, How does it work for students who want to participate? What are the steps to follow? Obviously you work together with many institutions within Panama, and outside as well.

DP: The educational component of the festival is key. From the audience to the artist itself, we care about interconnecting all parts into a whole experience. All artists teach a master class and meet thousands students from all over Latin America. At the same time we spend ten years educating the panamanian people about the relationship between jazz and Panama by including the biographies of panamanian musicians that actively participated in the history of jazz. This educational component is included in our publicity strategy, so it is massive. We have had street vendors commenting us about  jazz bands they are listening at the outdoor concert, their interaction on stage, they can comment on the timbre on the instruments, and explain in a very detailed way why they like it.

On another hand, all music students and professionals from all over the world are invited to participate of the master classes. The festival functions as a music education convention that has all kinds of classes from 9am to 4pm every day of the week of the festival. Students register through Blockbuster in Panama or tuboleto.com or just show up at the registration desk at the City of Knowledge on Monday morning (on the first day of the festival), pay a small fee and enjoy a week of master classes by the artists themselves and students and teachers form the Berklee Global Jazz Institute and Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory, Conservatory of Puerto Rico , Golandsky Piano Institute among others.

LJN: On a more personal note, how do you combine your professional career, your role as an artist with your roles as an educator, festival organizer, cultural ambassador of your country? How can you manage to wear so many hats at the same time?

DP: I happen to be surrounded by beautiful, intelligent, workaholic women who help me manage all my projects, heading up the list is my wife Patricia Zárate, who not only directs the festival, but plays saxophone and homeschool our 3 children.

LJN: Thank you Danilo. Thank you for taking some of your precious time to answer to our questions. And congratulations for ten years of hard work and commitment to the festival.

DP: Thanks to you and Latin Jazz Network for allowing me to address your visitors.

About Danilo Pérez

Grammy award winner Danilo Pérez is among the most influential and dynamic musicians of our time. In just over a decade, his distinctive blend of Pan-American jazz (covering the music of the Americas, folkloric and world music) has attracted critical acclaim and loyal audiences. Danilo’s abundant talents and joyous enthusiasm make his concerts both memorable and inspiring. Whether leading his own ensembles or touring with renowned jazz masters (Wayne Shorter, Roy Haynes, Steve Lacy), Danilo is making a decidedly fresh imprint on contemporary music, guided, as always, by his love for jazz. He has led his own groups since the early ‘90s, and as bandleader has earned three Grammy® nominations for his ebullient and innovative recordings. Born in Panama in 1965, Danilo started his musical studies at just three years of age with his father, a bandleader and singer. By age 10, he was studying the European classical piano repertoire at the National Conservatory in Panama. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in electronics, he moved to the United States to enroll at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and, after changing his major to music, transferred to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Currently, Perez serves as Artistic Director of the Panama Jazz Festival, Artistic Advisor of the innovative Mellon Jazz Up Close series at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, and Artistic Director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute. Read Full Bio

About the Panama Jazz Festival

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama_Jazz_Festival

The Panama Jazz Festival was founded in September 2003 by Panamanian Grammy-winning pianist Danilo Pérez.

A Fulbright Scholar, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Cultural Ambassador of Panama, and educator, founder of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute at Berklee College of Music, (MA, USA), Perez founded the festival with the mission of bettering the lives of people through shared musical experiences as listeners, on stage and in the classrooms. Perez’s stated vision for the event is that “By offering performances and educational activities of the highest order, as well as practical, hands on training in the music and entertainment business, the Panama Jazz Festival aims to inspire and educate while providing tools and opportunities to build a better future for individuals and their communities.”

As such, and while the Festival annually offers a rich program of concerts by leading international jazz musicians, the emphasis is on music education. It has become the largest music education event in the region.

The Panama Jazz Festival provides a week of master classes by some of the finest institutions in the field, including Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory, the Golandsky Piano Institute, and the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico. The event has also become a center for auditions for admissions and scholarships for the participating institutions.

Other institutions that have participated in the festival include the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Sienna Jazz Foundation, and the Paris Conservatory.

In just ten years, the festival has become a cultural tourism attraction that has already enticed to Panama more than 150,000 people from all over the world. The Festival has also announced more than 2,000,000 dollars in scholarships and more than 10,000 students, many of them international, have taken advantage of the Festival’s educational programs.

Some of the artists featured in the festival include The Wayne Shorter Quartet, Chucho Valdés Quartet, John Patitucci, Joe Lovano, Rubén Blades, Randy Weston, Kenny Barron, Nnenna Freelon, Lizz Wright, Jack DeJohnette, Stanley Jordan, Billy Cobham, and Ellis Marsalis, Jr.

The festival supports the year-round educational programs of Danilo Perez Foundation, which brings art and music to children from extremely poor communities in the Republic of Panama.

Clinics and Special Programs

An important part of the festival is music education, and all invited artists teach master classes in the “Music Clinics”, where students from all parts of Latin America and the world come together to learn from the international masters of jazz. Among the international artists that have given lectures are Wayne Shorter, Chucho Valdez, Jack De Johnette, John Patitucci, Joe Lovano, Randy Weston, Brian Blade, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Nnenna Freelon, Kenny Barron, Marco Pignataro, Eddie Gomez, Regina Carter, Steve Turre, Stanley Jordan, Janis Siegel, David Sanchez, Charlie Hunter, Tia Fuller, and many more.

The Panama Jazz Festival has also offered master classes on Panamanian Folklore, dance, classical music (with renowned national and international musicians and the best groups from the New England Conservatory), literature, production and engineering (thanks to the Berklee College of Music Production and Engineering Department), and many other subjects.

Auditions and Scholarships

Each year, the festival invites prestigious institutions to audition and recruit students from all over Latin America and the world. At present time the Panama Jazz Festival is the largest recruiting space in Latin America for admissions and scholarships for some of the best music schools in the Americas including Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory, Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, Golandsky Piano Institute at Princeton University.

Related Links

Panama Jazz Festival Marks 10th Anniversary in 2013

Panama Jazz Festival Official Website

Panama Jazz Festival YouTube Channel

Panama Jazz Festival MySpace

Panama Jazz Festival Facebook

Danilo Perez Foundation

Danilo Perez Official Website

Photographs – Clínicas/Workshops – Panama Jazz Festival