The cover story in the new issue of JazzTimes is about pianist, composer and educator Danilo Pérez, whose Grammy-nominated album Providencia captures much of the sweeping energy of his recent creative life. I went to Boston in the fall for Pérez’s album-release gig at Scullers, and then spent a few engaging hours at his well-appointed home in Quincy, Mass. (That link leads you to a preview; the full piece, which I obviously endorse, is only available in print.)
I saw this piece as something more than the story of Providencia; by my reckoning, 2010 marked the end of a momentous decade for Pérez. If you were paying attention in 2000, you may recall that it was the year of Motherland, and also the year Pérez joined Wayne Shorter’s new quartet. In the years since, he had served as the cultural ambassador for his native Panama, and started a festival there.
Pérez is a great interview: responsive and generous, unguarded, quick to seize on a suggested premise. What struck me about our conversation was how frequently it kept returning to Shorter, without very much encouragement on my part. Pérez’s affiliation with Shorter has been transformative, opening new spaces in his playing and realigning the public’s perceptions of his art. Rudresh Mahanthappa, the saxophonist featured on Providencia, told me that when he first heard Pérez, in the late 1990s, he initially chalked it up to high-level Latin jazz. “But when I saw him with Wayne,” Mahanthappa said, “that’s when I realized that his palette was so wide.”
Part Seven of a year-end email conversation with David Adler, Chris Barton, Shaun Brady and Jennifer Odell (Jump to: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10| 11)
From: Shaun Brady
Hello again, all,
Jazz thriving outside the usual places, Nate? My year was bracketed by a pair of jazz fest excursions that brought that idea (in a more literal sense, perhaps, than you intended) to vivid life. The first, in January, was to the seventh Panama Jazz Festival; the second, just last month, was to the Festival Internacional JAZZUV in Xalapa, Mexico. Neither is a locale that one would normally associate with a thriving jazz scene, but (perhaps for that very reason) both were attended by packed houses of enthusiastic locals.
In both cases, the performances were not the beginning and end of the festivals, but the endcaps to week-long educational efforts.
Master classes from the likes of John Patitucci and Ellis Marsalis (in Panama) and Jack DeJohnette and Ray Drummond (in Xalapa) were at least as important to the fests’ missions, and it was intriguing to watch young students in both places work with master musicians or virtuoso peers not much older -- Panama served as the inauguration of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, whose students led classes of their own. (Here's one BGJI vid of a class that I was in the room for.)
Both also, not coincidentally, have at their helms musicians who take education and advocacy as importantly as chops: in JAZZUV’s third year, making it the same age as its eponymous Universidad Vericruzano-affiliated jazz school, Francisco Mela (pictured at the top of this post) took over as artistic director, supplementing the efforts of pianist/founder/school director Edgar Dorantes.
And the former is the brainchild of hometown boy Danilo Perez, whose year was just capped by a well-deserved Grammy nom for his gorgeous Providencia.
This on top of his duties at Berklee, forming an all-star band in tribute to Dizzy Gillespie (whose initial performances were a bit shaky-legged, though here’s hoping the Perez/Rudresh Mahanthappa collaboration continues), and curating his seventh season at the Kimmel Center here in Philly, a Monk tribute that brought Geri Allen’s Timeline Quartet and a reprisal of Danilo’s own Panamonk project to town.
So there you go: a master at the top of his own game, and seeds being planted for the future. Meet you back here in ten years or so to talk about the burgeoning crop of Panamanian and Xalapan rising stars?