Kimmel Center Presents 2005-2006 Season:
A Conversation with Danilo Pérez, Mellon Jazz Series
April 3, 2005
Danilo Pérez, Mellon Jazz Series Artistic Advisor
You played in Dizzy Gillespie’s band. Can you talk about some of the influences he had on your music making today?
He felt very strongly that music crossed beyond cultures, he taught us to make music without boundaries. He was quite keen on bringing cultures together, music has the ability to do that.
Are you teaching now?
Yes, and I love it. I’m at New England Conservatory on the jazz faculty and have more students this year than ever before. Students from all over the world: Hungary, Russia, Venezuela, Columbia, Japan, Korea, Seattle, Maine, Ohio, Chicago, New York.
It seems to me each of your recordings is completely different from the previous. I hear that element of no-boundaries in your music.
They are indeed each very different in “sound” but each is tied by the same theme. And I set out to do that from the very first recording, trying to capture music from the south of the Americas to the north, as well as from Western Europe and Africa. That is “Pan-American Jazz”! I think when people come to Panama now, they begin to understand this. When I started doing this in 1992, people said it was too much, the music was all over the place. But, the culture of Panama is very rich and very diverse. We have indigenous peoples, people from Africa, India, China, Israel, and more. I am truly Panamanian in that way.
With your album Panamonk I could truly hear that diversity as well as a sheer joy of making music in your playing.
A lot of my albums are pointed that way. I think with that album too, people finally were able to understand what it was I was after. I think a light bulb went on and people said “Oh, he’s Latino and he plays jazz too!” Also, as each new album is eventually released, I’m already on to the next thing, I have to continually think of new things to do, ways to be two steps ahead.
I understand you fell in love with Perelman Theater the first time you saw it?
Yes, it’s a beautiful hall with fantastic acoustics and just the right size for jazz. And, I saw a programmer, Mervon Mehta, wanting to find a way to program something for the community here, a way to create a jazz series that doesn’t have to depend on big names and stars, and one that can focus on the music. What we do now with the series is not based on names. It’s based on great players who want to make music.
You talk about the music during performances?
I think that’s extremely important. It helps make it a more complete experience, something the audience can touch almost. It gives them context and helps bring the music to life for them. I don’t know of any other jazz series that’s doing this.
You’ve called upon a lot of friends and colleagues in putting this series together.
Yes, they’ve been very supportive of our work here. And in turn, we’ve been able to program a lot of very fine musicians who otherwise aren’t able to get this kind of exposure, musicians who aren’t normally playing on big series and being covered by the major newspapers and jazz magazines.
Next year’s series, “One Nation Under Jazz,” brings together a lot of masters and has a unique focus.
This is our way of celebrating people who are important to the history of this country. They have done so much to create the shape of jazz as we know it today. Ellis Marsalis for example, has been an important factor in the lives of many young jazz musicians as they grow and develop. And, as we looked at musicians in several cities around the country, we thought we should in fact honor not only a key musical figure in that city, but the city itself, including Geri Allen in Detroit, Von Freeman in Chicago, and Roy Haynes in Boston, all here in Philadelphia at the Kimmel Center.
Von Freeman, for example, was the first person we called as we were putting the series together, and he said yes, without hesitation, we didn’t even have a chance to talk about what we might do here before he just said, “YES!”
It’s in a way a kind of paying back to these jazz mentors who have given so much to the art form.
In a way it continues the evolution of the art form as well?
Yes, because I think jazz is the future. It continually refreshes itself by the very nature of what it is–improvisation–and it’s fed and nourished by both the masters and younger generation of musicians getting together. And we do that every day when I teach at New England Conservatory. The Kimmel Center is doing that here in Philadelphia as well with this series. In 100 years, people here in Philadelphia are going to say, “Oh yes, Von Freeman, an important jazz musician.” And because the Kimmel Center is still so new, we are creating history here as well.
Mervon Mehta is having the same experience with the other Kimmel Center Presents series he’s programming as well.
In fact, everywhere I go now as I teach and perform and tour, people are asking me about performing here. As the series grows and develops and gains a following, it has become a great destination for jazz musicians. People want to come here and play the series!
Copyright, Kimmel Center for the Arts, 2005
Free for editorial use with attribution.