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Danilo Perez

Danilo Perez was born in Panama in 1965 to a musical family. His father,
Danilo Sr. was a professional bandleader and singer who gave Danilo his musical
foundation. At an early age Perez was studying classical piano at the National
Conservatory in Panama. He has retained his Panamanian roots however he has
reflected on the diversity Panama contained during his youth in contrast to other
Latin American countries. Panama is a very diverse country. From Papo Lucca to
Horowitz to Louis Armstrong to calypso to folklore music to salsa to Puerto Rican,
Brazilian. And I had a chance to play salsa with my father. Then I played with some
Brazilians, Brazilian music. Then I played at the conservatory classical recitals. And I
had an incredible experience from the beginning. Thats all due to my father. My
father was a singer and he taught me the art of listening. 1 Perez also reflected on
the social diversity which would later influence his reflective albums such as The
Journey which served of a musical interpretation of the slave trade.
Its the country which is such a melting pot. We have Indians that came to
work for the canal, from India not the indigenous Indians from Panama. There are
black people that came from Peru from Portobello. I mean the slaves, preColumbian. Theres the Columbian connection. Its superbly wide. Thats what
Panama is really about, a melting pot.2
Although he grew up playing Salsa with his father, Perez soon started
gravitating towards the sounds of jazz that he heard other musicians in the area
playing. He had to sift through the different musical genres of Panama to discover
1 Mark Pignataro, Mark.Danilo Perez. Eric Nemeyers Jazz Inside March, 2014.
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what appealed to him. The Panamanians had their own unique version of Calypso
music. But the trumpet player was a fan of Dizzy Gillespie, Gene White. And there
was a piano player that sounded like Art Tatum. There was the influence of Peruchin
from Cuba who lived in Panama for 15 years. And then Papo Lucca was really the
one in context of popular and commercial music, Salsa that was very famous. He
borrowed this bebop-ish thing in his playing, a little essence, a little tinge of that
that made it unique.3
Perez desired a greater jazz education and decided to come to the United States to
attend the Berklee College of Music in the mid 1980s. Unsure of his stylistic goals
he found himself gravitating toward pianist Donald Brown. Brown gave him lessons
at the piano but also referred him to performing artists that led Perez to his current
destination playing with Wayne Shorter. Perez began playing with vocalist Jon
Hendricks. From there he graduated to playing with trumpeter Terrance Blanchard.
Finally Danilo found himself with the great Cuban alto saxophonist Paquito DRivera.
Paquito opened up another door for me because Paquito started basically
questioning me like, Lets do a Waltz from Venezuela. And I grew up listening to that
but I was so into Red Garland and Herbie and it was hard man. Paquito said, Lets
improvise like Mozart on stage. And I was like Oh,man,cmon! It was important for
me to go through that because it not only gave me the space to develop a system,
a flavor, a connection of all the things I was born with but also it gave me a chance
to truly understand that it is always important to keep a connection with the
essence of your culture.4

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Perez continues to perform a wide variety of straight ahead and latin


influenced jazz. With his diverse Panamanian perspective on music he continues to
probe the concept of Latin jazz and how it plays into the bigger picture of what jazz
is.
I think one of the things is like people make the connection with Latin music
only from the period of Machito and Dizzy Gillespie, but they forget that the Latin
tinge was already in the air from the beginning with Jelly Roll Morton, with William C.
Handy when he wrote St. Lous Blues. The music already had a latin element to
itpeople forget that W.C. Handy was in Cuba doing military service. When you
hear the early piano players from Cuba and New Orleans you see so much
connection. The idea of playing rhythms with syncopation, the fourth element in
music thats so strong, that has its ties with Latin music. You see theres a lot of
history that has bot been really written down. Dizzy Gillespie said that once, that
the Latinos, the ones that were in the band are getting to learn this music much
better than we are getting to know where they are coming from. 5

Sources
Chinen, Nate. Danilo Perez: Charting The Possibilities Jazz Times. February, 2011.
Pignataro, Mark.Danilo Perez. Eric Nemeyers Jazz Inside March, 2014.