Several years have passed, but I remember clearly the first time I interviewed the famous Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez. The place was called El Zaguán. A dark and lively venue that showcased live music. That afternoon, we talked amidst the sound check for a rock band contest. I was part of the jury and Danilo Pérez was a renowned jazz pianist who was visiting his native Panama. The interview was marked by his enormous enthusiasm and by the desire that impelled him: to contribute to the Panamanian cultural development. It was not long before the first edition of the Panama Jazz Festival. That, in addition to his music, would become the great cultural contribution of Danilo to the country.
Since that inaugural version of the Panama Jazz Festival, 15 years have passed. Long enough for Panama to become the epicenter of Jazz in the region and its festival an event that attracts a huge number of local and foreign visitors, who enjoy a week of musical presentations of great quality.
The 2018 edition will not be the exception. Among the varied jazz offer of the festival, we have chosen three impressive creators, as a sample of the qualities of the event. Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza is one of the greatest voices in world jazz. Owner of a musical expression that transcends borders and styles, Souza is the goddaughter of the legendary and eclectic composer Hermeto Pascoal, who encouraged her on her musical journey. Her learning process took her from Brazil to Boston, New York and Los Angeles. Her music has a powerful sense of adventure without leaving aside a strong respect for tradition.
For Souza, singing without words is a form of raw communication, beyond the particularities of language. However, in his most recent album, “Speaking in Tongues”, Souza included lyrics in two of her songs. But they are not from any composer. The Brazilian singer sang the words of the incomparable composer and poet Leonard Cohen in the brilliant songs “Split” and “No One To Follow.” Throughout her career, Souza has recorded and performed with musicians such as Herbie Hancock or Paul Simon. She has also been a soloist in important works by composers such as Osvaldo Golijov and Derek Bermel.
Another legendary interpreter who will be at the 2018 edition of the Panama Jazz Festival is Cuban pianist and composer Chucho Valdés, a key figure in the evolution of Afro-Cuban jazz over the past 50 years. Founder and director of the legendary Irakere orchestra, Chucho remained at the head of the singular group for more than 30 years. Since 2005, the pianist has concentrated on his career as a soloist and as a leader of small groups.
Another genius present at the Panama Jazz Festival is the brilliant saxophonist Wayne Shorter. His music transcends genres and keeps at the center of his creativity a surprising and extraordinary capacity for improvisation. Considered one of the most significant creators in contemporary music, the great innovative and imaginative capacity of Wayne Shorter continues to amaze audiences around the world. His quartet, formed in 2000, is composed of pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade.
From its conception and beginnings, music education is one of the cornerstones of the Panama Jazz Festival. All invited artists offer master classes, where students from all over the world gather to learn from international jazz masters. Last year, 5,000 students from all over the world attended the festival. This year, participating schools include the Berklee College of Music, the New England Conservatory, the Berklee’s Global Jazz Institute; The Thelonious Monk Institute; and the New York Jazz Academy.
Within the rich pedagogical offer, The Symposium of Music Therapy stands out. Founded in January 2013 by Patricia Zárate, Chilean saxophonist, music therapist, Executive Director of the Panama Jazz Festival, and wife of Danilo Pérez, the Symposium aims to become a meeting point for music therapists from different regions. A space to show, discuss, present, develop and share the different works and experiences of music therapy in Latin America and the world.
Although the Panama Jazz Festival is no longer celebrated 100% in the Casco Viejo, it still maintains a lot of activity happening in the Casco (a good part of it in the Danilo’s jazz club).
The festival will be held from January 15 to 20. The 2018 edition will be held at the Ciudad del Saber headquarters, which can be accessed from the Casco Viejo by public and selective transport, with great ease.