JAZZREVIEW: What’s happening, man?
DANILO PEREZ: Beautiful, man! I’m here with my daughter. You know, we just had another baby on Saturday another girl, Carlina Esmiralda Perez. I’m really happy and I’m excited about living life and everything.
JAZZREVIEW: Congratulations on another new Danilo creation, my friend. Is that Carlina?
DANILO PEREZ: That’s Daniella--15 months, man.
JAZZREVIEW: You present this really, really brilliantly. Wonderful happiness, man, and I hear that all up in the music, too.
DANILO PEREZ: Thanks. For me it’s like it becomes the reason, really, why I’m doing this. You know, the music. I remember when I was a kid, I was 7 or 8-years old. This guy came to fix the washing machine and my father - we used to jam in the afternoon. This guy was working for, like, 4 or 5 hours and finally we got the washing machine working. But after that, before he left, my father gave him a whettle [undetermined spelling hand held percussion instrument], like a shredded carrot actually, that sounded like a [wheetle] and a fork. And I saw his face transform through the sound. By the time we finished, like an hour later, my father said, "How much was it to fix it [the washing machine]?" And he’s, like, "Man, if we’re going to talk about money, what owe you me, I mean, what I owe you I couldn’t begin to be able to pay you for the happiness that have you guys have brought to me." I was like, "wow!"
JAZZREVIEW: That’s incredible.
DANILO PEREZ: Yeah. I could sense it right away. My father always encouraged that. You know, music is a language of happiness.
JAZZREVIEW: That’s definitely present in the way you play, man, for sure. Adam Cruz and Ben Street, these are guys--I’ve heard their names before, but I haven’t been so much familiar with their playing until just now. How’d you hook up with these guys?
DANILO PEREZ: Adam, I have known him a long time, from the nineties. I remember meeting him when we were very young and he’s one of those guys who just really loved the music. His father is a timbalero and actually, we have a lot in common. He wanted to play swing. He was from that era, from the 90’s David Sanchez, Ed Simon and myself. We wanted to play straight ahead and a lot of us started getting around, playing jazz. There were sometimes funny stories because a friend of mine would say, like, "Yeah, man, you can swing. But you what? Do not say any words. Don’t talk and they’ll call you."
Adam is part of that family. You know, he’s taken the long road refining his mind and his playing. To me, he crosses borderlines. He speaks fluent, bilingual music and he’s played with a lot of people. He’s been in bands with Chick Corea, with the Oregon Band, the Mingus Big Band, Willie Corlone, Tito Puentes, David Sanchez, Bruce Barth and with Motherland in my band very musician’s musician kind of thing.
And then Benny Street, kind of similar, I met him at Boston when he was going to [indistinct] Observatory and I was going to Berkeley. We met and played in a band called Little Big Band. So then what happened is we met years later in New York and I just freaked out with his playing. His playing is so strong, so open, and so worldly.
The thing I love about them is that they speak about the world when they play. They’re not only trying to play a style. Really, that’s the way they are, too, the way we are with the band. We are very interested in what is going on in Latin America, what’s happening in the world, in Iraq. You know, we talk about all kinds of things.
And also Ben has been one of Simon’s musicians, you know. He’s played a long time with Kurt Rosenwinkle and Mark Turner, with a bunch of projects. He’s even done things with Cindy Lauper, you know, on a recording. So he’s really like, you know, everywhere that you look on the bass. He’s one of those guys that is there always, putting the right energy and the right vibe on it.
JAZZREVIEW: You can tell that you guys are so passionate about what you do because there’s so much passion up in the album. The album, if I didn’t mention it, is called "The Danilo Perez Tri--Live at the Jazz Showcase", where jazz lives in Chicago. For a live album, it seems like you need to have that environment and the audience is definitely a key element. Is that one of the reasons you chose the Jazz Showcase to record?
DANILO PEREZ: Well, I would say that’s part of the reason. The other reason is that Joe Segal was connected there. There’s a lot of times when I would play, people would say, "I wish you recorded that and put it out. Just put it out. Don’t worry about it." We have been playing for a couple of years so I said, "Let me see what that sounds like." I came home and I listened to it with no expectation and then the music was there, man. We had played it and it was captured and I said, "Oh, my God, I have to put this out just for me."
JAZZREVIEW: It’s beautiful, man.
DANILO PEREZ: You know you can’t keep that home alone.
JAZZREVIEW: No, man, you can’t keep all that good music to yourself. We need to hear that!
DANILO PEREZ: Yes, definitely. Thank you.
JAZZREVIEW: Your playing seems to create a silent, intent, concentrated, cognitive, spacious spectrum. It’s like an artist staring at a blank canvas, in which you proceed to paint and build plateaus, and all kind of space and possibility. How did you architecturally structure that complex?
DANILO PEREZ: Wow, that’s deep, man! I love it.
JAZZREVIEW: Yeah, I like it deep, baby.
DANILO PEREZ: I love it. You know over the years, I’ve been thinking a lot about language when I’m playing--a lot of sentence structure. For example, if I hear a phrase that goes with "How are you?" or "What’s happening?" I try to play that. I try to use words to create lines. I try to create sounds from working with Wayne because he was one of those that activated imagination in the deepest way for me.
I was reading a book called "The Unseen Hand." It’s a very interesting book about conspiracy. So a lot of the feeling of improvisation in the record has that feeling. Like I am, you know, sometimes playing lines [Danilo sings] and then I’m hearing dogs. And my right hand’s going [Danilo makes barking sounds] and the dogs are the bite.
You know, like, it’s the wind of some changes in this country. It’s definitely a sense of known musical ideas as I was playing, the music that inspired me to the improvisation. And to all of us, I was talking, like, "Let’s play." Those times were the times during the Iraq thing, the war and everything. I just said, "You know, let’s play and send a loud message that we are opposed to things that are happening." That’s one side.
The other side I was working with Steve Lacey. He inspired me a lot through watching. Like when you watch a painting, try to play the music in your mind. You know, like watching the colors and just playing to it. I remember he took me to the Margolis Gallery in New York and he explained to me about this Chinese painting. He was saying (about this Chinese abstract type of painting) [that] you can see if you look for it, (you have to be a certain distance and look way far) and you can see the Chinese elements on it.
JAZZREVIEW: Is that one of those paintings where you stare at it for such a long time and then all of a sudden something jumps out and you see the picture?
DANILO PEREZ: Exactly. So he said, "You know, that’s what’s happening in the music." And Wayne also talked about that, you know, "You have to have mystery in the music." And that night, after we finished playing, I remember the feeling--kind of what felt like a little movie or a dream. Then [I’d] finish and say, "We were painting tonight."
JAZZREVIEW: Yeah. You know, music is so visual, man. It’s not always the visions of what you’re playing. It’s the visions of the space that you can get some of your ideas from, as well.
DANILO PEREZ: Exactly.
JAZZREVIEW: Yeah. I love that, man. You guys definitely do that on this album. The tracks just seem to flow together seamlessly. I mean, even though the disc is live, there’s not really a need to hype the audience like, you know, a lot of live albums they always crank up the clapping. You don’t need to do that, man. You can tell the emphasis is on the music and the audience is just an accent.
DANILO PEREZ: Exactly. Definitely. One of the things that I was interested in is that whatever you hear from the audience is actually coming from the stage because there was no mic. Usually, you get a mic on the audience to get more feeling or whatever. This was all miced from the stage and Joe Segal didn’t want any mic on the audience. So at the end, I was very thankful for that because then again, you have a more...it’s like a great combination. It’s live, but it also creates this sound that is very focused.
JAZZREVIEW: Yeah. It concentrates on the music more so than just cranking up the audience. It’s just really, specifically about the music. It’s really cerebral because you’re hearing the music, and you’re hearing how you guys are working so well together. Then you remember, oh yeah, this is live and there’s actually an audience out there.
DANILO PEREZ: Yeah.
JAZZREVIEW: Are you working on any music with respect to your new daughter?
DANILO PEREZ: I’m working on this little piece for her, but I can’t play too loud because the new daughter is sleeping. I’m working on a bunch of stuff, like, you know, this thing that is really interesting. My daughter Daniella has been giving me a lot of ideas. And she’s been singing this thing that goes [Danilo sings Peya Coveya, Peya Covea]-- she sings that like that and I was trying to come up with a piece or something. And I hear a bass line out of the words that she was saying.
JAZZREVIEW: That’s a nice vamp.
DANILO PEREZ: And I was, like, man, I love that bass line and I started playing that. Then she started going like [Danila sings] "Wow-wow, wow-wow!" And I say, "Oh yeah, the dogs again are coming back. Let me put some dogs on top of that." So I started looking for the sound and the dogs go right here [plays piano]. So I put them both together and it was like this [Danilo plays piano]. So you’ve got that thing, you’ve got that bass line, and then you’ve got the dogs on the side going [Danilo imitates the dogs] "Wow-wow, wow-wow." I’m working on it. That’s the idea.
JAZZREVIEW: Man, I hear it. [In the background, little Daniella starts singing the part]
DANILO PEREZ: She’s singing the part! "Daniella, how’s that go? The dogs? Wow- wow. How’s does it go?" [Laughs] So you know, right now I’m doing a lot of that. I’m just watching and hearing what my daughter is doing and what she is bringing to the table, which is a lot! Then I have stuff from before that I’ve been working on too. I want the piano to sound like those little toys for my new daughter. Then the cello comes in. Stuff like that. Then the music just keeps on building and when you’re done, you see the birth of a child in the piece. Hopefully, hopefully, that’s what I want the feeling to be. Like when you have that joy as if you’re going through the whole thing [Having a child] all the emotions. And then when the piece ends, the baby is born. I’m looking to that. I’ve got to work on that!
JAZZREVIEW: You’re going to bring tears to everybody’s eyes with that one. Wow, that’s going to be so special for your daughter.
DANILO PEREZ: Yeah. That’s for Carlina.
JAZZREVIEW: I was going to ask you. I know you’re not, but are you a surfer? Do you surf?
DANILO PEREZ: No. I’ve been attracted to that, but no, I’m not.
JAZZREVIEW: The only reason I ask you that is because it seems like the way you play is analogous to riding a wave. You know, like surfing on the crest, speeding up, darting in and switching direction with the natural flow. Then you’ve got to crash, and you get this enormous powerful sound, man. You guys are really riding off the waves of each other when you play.
DANILO PEREZ: Thank you, thank you. We talk a lot about playing like we talk. And also the body, you know, the walking thing, dancing, body movement and speech. If it needs to speed up here, we speed it up. And if it needs to slow down, we slow it down. I’m glad that you’re noticing that because it’s something that we really talk about. We don’t talk in musical terms, but we do say it would be nice to play like you talk and that’s it.
JAZZREVIEW: Yeah, you can really recognize all that percussive stuff in your language and the emotions that come out, too. And then when someone starts going, "ding, ding, ding," Ben might look over and say, "Oh, you’re going there?" He might hit some notes on the bass and then Adam kicks in on drums, and you guys are like going off in another direction. You were just walking down the street and now you just made a left. No one said you were supposed to make a left, but that is where the music takes you.
DANILO PEREZ: Right. [Laughs] That’s what it’s about. Keeping the mystery, right?
JAZZREVIEW: Yeah. I mean, you may have a point A and a point B, but you start out at point A and you may not even get to B, man. You’ve got a whole other B and that’s great!
DANILO PEREZ: Yeah, because that’s one thing that we’re also trying to do. Like the audience, it’s almost like they’re conditioned to this western mentality for years and as soon as they hear "Bam, bah-bah-boom!" [Danilo make the sound of notes where the tones resolve], then they start applauding, you know. But if you go, [Danilo sings, then stops abruptly] and leave it right there, they all go, "What is going on?"
That’s what I love about like Ahmad Jamal. He’ll play something really simple then all of a sudden there’s this chord that you go, "What?" In the middle of that he’s creating so many emotions and he never takes you to the usual ending. Actually, sometimes there’s no ending. That’s the idea. That’s something that I also feel is important for me right now.
I’m too young. I’ve got to go. I can’t finish a piece yet. I’ve got to go until I find the end somewhere in my life experience. So if I say that I finished a piece, it would be saying that I’m done with learning or I’m done with my emotions in that moment, you know. Gratification is something that I’ve kind of found more and more important in my life through my family, and through my daughters. It’s like you say, I want to surf, man. I want to get on the water and go!
There’s so much to see and so much to do. And hopefully with music, we can inspire that. I feel like that’s my mission right now, to really inspire that possibility. A tune is endless, actually, and life is endless if you look at it from that perspective. Everything you do is important to humanity. And when we think positive about our brothers in Africa or Latin America or people in New York or wherever, we are contributing to the karma of the world.
Sometimes, people say, "I don’t really care. I’m too far away from that place." But the truth is, you have to care. It’s like an investment, a spiritual investment that goes back to you and you don’t know why certain things happen in certain ways. You’re a part of the world, you know.
JAZZREVIEW: It’s the drop of water complex, man. We’re all a part of that wave.
DANILO PEREZ: Exactly.
JAZZREVIEW: I was playing your disc in public where people were talking and no one was paying attention. You can’t hear the music that way. I think that this music is made for listening performance venues. You can’t witness its beauty unless you’re actually sitting there paying strict attention to the music and what’s going on. Then you can actually feel it.
DANILO PEREZ: Yeah. You’ve got a lot of courage to do that like that. That’s great. I think that the music plays in the background and there’s something about it. Because it’s like something that can be in the air that they are not aware of and they are getting involved. By the time they figure out what happened, they might be all tuned in.
Creativity doesn’t have a price and this is the thing. I believe in people. I really believe that if people have access to things, they can sense, as time goes by, the huge difference between somebody making a piece to cash a check in the bank and someone who is talking about his life or talking about our life.
JAZZREVIEW: Hey, man, I love the way you put the Panamanian funk up in the Monk, man. That’s tight.
DANILO PEREZ: Thanks, man. You know, there was a time I was working with Wynton a little bit, and we were in Poland. I had a tremendous experience playing a lot of Monk’s music. And even though I have played that music with John Hendricks before, it didn’t register the same way. When I played with Wynton, there was just something about the way we played that registered and made me felt totally connected. I felt it was the way he brought the New Orleans into the music that helped me to see. I felt the connection right away with the Caribbean and then that’s when I started making a huge connection there.
I finally heard jazz through Monk. There was this really serious connection with where I came from with the rhythms and Africa influence, basically. And then I started to notice it more and more with other people, like McCoy and Elvin. And it just became the entrance doors to the palace.
JAZZREVIEW: Well, you know, everybody writes about or plays the music of their time. What I mean by that is we have this certain feeling and that feeling is connected to how we are living our life’s experiences. We’ve been blessed to have our lives influenced through Trane and Monk, and all these cats that have lived and played before us. They basically lived their life and expressed themselves creatively and musically. We get to take that, mix in our own creativity and bring it into the 21st Century. So we’re all connected, man.
DANILO PEREZ: Totally. Totally. That was really a great lesson. That was the beginning of so many things that I’ve researched for myself and the African influence in music and in Latin America--how the religious thing has to do a lot with why they didn’t play percussion instruments much in the north part, and why the south developed in a certain way. That raised a lot of questions and the conclusion was, like, well, family, you know, that had been taken apart.
Those are the kinds of things that I worry [about] sometimes when I see situations that are happening right now, for example. You have to try and fight strong to keep some kind of sense of history--so people know the historical aspect in a way that they can trace it back, which is very important.
But the beautiful part is people who came from Africa didn’t forget their roots or their culture. It transcended beyond. You know, it transcended through the blues, it transcended through Latin rhythms, through Cuban rhythms from Colombian to Panamanian. You know, the gift and the blessing is that the message is so strong that it lives on. It really did, man, amazingly.
We think about places that were actually prohibited to play the drums and they found ways to keep the culture alive and keep the message delivered, you know. And people like Monk and Coltrane found a connection to ride a wave to those, way down to those roots. They were talking in a very long distance phone call to the people and sending it really loud and clear to the world, you know. And people from all over the world, from Japan, Panama, Cuba and everywhere, could hear the frequency, man.
JAZZREVIEW: You know I always give this analogy that here we are, it’s 2005, but this jazz music has been played for a long time. And the cats played it at night, in the evening hours, all through the morning. So I think there’s still a little vortex that exists way up in the air. The ones who understand the music all tap into that. We get on that information superhighway of jazz music and pull down all those things that we need. They become a part of us and we reproduce it creatively in our own way. And I think that’s something that you do with your music.
DANILO PEREZ: That’s beautiful. That’s great. I’m looking forward to the moment that it actually gets credited in the books, like it is, and people go into really putting those books out where they talk about all the messengers. You know, the messengers like ‘Trane, a messenger of that galaxy, and Monk, and go beyond musicianship.
It’s not only just the music. That’s why there are not many musicians like those guys, because they were from another galaxy. They had to come and deliver the message. It’s like, like Jesus Christ in a way.
JAZZREVIEW: You know it is so beautiful that you said that. Jazz music and Jesus Christ? I’m definitely down with that. Deliver the message.
DANILO PEREZ: But there are a lot of problems with a lot of these things, man. One of the problems is that some of this stuff is really beyond human comprehension. I mean, trying to write something that Monk came up with, there’s no computer that can write that. And the way Trane plays! You hear a lot of people try and play like him, but how many people have ever made you feel even close to the way he did? I’m actually playing "A Love Supreme" for my daughter and she freaked out when she heard it, right away. There’s a DNA that united us and those guys were part of that.
JAZZREVIEW: That’s the strand, man. You know, J.C. - John Coltrane, Jesus Christ.
DANILO PEREZ: Wow, I didn’t think about that.
JAZZREVIEW: That’s deep, isn’t it?
DANILO PEREZ: That’s happening.
JAZZREVIEW: Well, you know, you’ve got to be one of the most enthusiastic cats in the business. I mean, you’ve got this great big smile and you play with this even bigger presence, man, so everybody must feed off of your love and energy when you’re out there.
DANILO PEREZ: I’m always reminding myself where I came from. We are barely two million people population-wise, and when I think of the chances that I’ve had, I pray and I’m a Christian. So, I pray before I eat and before I get up in the morning and I’m very thankful. But it always comes to my mind, the question is, you know, I’m always saying thank you for the blessing and all that. But the question that I’m asking myself lately is, "What did I do to earn that?"
JAZZREVIEW: What you do is what you do. You exist and you tap into that spirit and the beauty of the music. And you pass the message by the way you play. Your passion is coming right out of that piano.
DANILO PEREZ: Exactly. So the first answer that I found in myself is the gift of doing something like that. And I have to be grateful to be living. You know, I could be in a situation where I’m in Iraq right now or I’m in Africa where there’s so much poverty you don’t have anything to eat. So right away, my senses change immediately.
DANILO PEREZ: Yeah. Overjoyed...because I’m trying to kind of do it in that way where I’m sending that energy in the air. Hopefully, it will be so strong and there will be a lot of other people doing the same, that it will reach a point in the universe and will touch these people. They will survive, and hopefully, the world will change, too. That’s really how I go about it.
I get upset when I didn’t play the best, but then I start thinking and I put things in perspective right away. It gets very clear to me--the gift, the gift of life, you know. It’s the first acknowledgment to be thankful, to be alive, really. It starts from there. Everything else takes a back seat.
JAZZREVIEW: There it is, man. J.C. Acknowledgement. He was onto something, man, and so are you. Your feet are so grounded in the earth, you feel the dirt between your toes, and that’s why I know that music is so organic and I hear the message.
DANILO PEREZ: Thank you. Really, people like you are really important to encounter in life because that’s the pat on the back that says, "Brother, keep going."
JAZZREVIEW: That’s all we really want in life. We want to let the message be heard, because it’s not just our message. It’s really a greater message that we’re putting out there for other people to hear it. And you’re thankful when they do.
DANILO PEREZ: Yeah. Definitely. I got a beautiful letter from one of the greatest classical clarinet players, Richard Stoltzman, and he made me cry, man. He went home after the concert and wrote me a letter. And I’m just going to read you the end. He said, "Thank you from my human self, which has been uplifted and enlightened. You are a blessing to music." That was, he said what he was feeling. Like with music, where do we go from here? And then he went to the concert that we played and he heard me with the trio. He heard something that he said was "The joy of communicating." And he said, "Man, thanks for putting me back in perspective."
Man, I was in tears. Wow, this guy--such a brilliant artist and then he went home and wrote this. What words of encouragement! You feel like continuing your life, living on under the values that you believe in and the message that gets delivered.
In other words, the music is only an excuse for celebrating and making people feel that we are celebrating life as we are living here. If we can say we’re happy to be alive, forget all this other stuff. We just keep moving on and we can do it through some music, like some chord changes. That’s my mission accomplished, man. If I can be that instrument, I feel so grateful.
JAZZREVIEW: Danilo, you make Stevie Wonder’s "Overjoyed" dance with raindrops of joy. Man, it sounds so good. Which piece on your disc was especially fun for you to perform or what’s the most significant?
DANILO PEREZ: Well, he’s one of those humans I call E.T. He came here to deliver the goods as a messenger. I’ve been in love with him since I lived in Panama. I always played his pieces and it’s been a big part of my repertoire, and I felt like this was a perfect. There’s something about the lyrics that bring me up, you know, and I needed that. I found it through his piece, you know, and I started playing and I put all my heart into trying to interpret it and give it my own version, my own rendering.
I’m glad it’s been growing in me as the years go by. It’s one of those tunes we play with the trio that people ask me to play, which is so great! That’s one of the beauties of music, you know, if they are asking to play "Overjoyed" and I’m relieved.
JAZZREVIEW: When I first heard you do "Overjoyed" on the disc, I immediately thought about your babies, your little girls and your family. So I felt all of that come out of Stevie’s piece.
DANILO PEREZ: Yeah, man, thank you. I love that piece. Every time I play it, it gets me flowing. It gets me excited about what I’m doing and it’s beautiful. And we are taking a lot of chances with it. It’s a piece you play and when you finish it, you listen to it and then you are happy for a long time. It really charges you with a lot of energy.
JAZZREVIEW: When you cover somebody’s piece like "Overjoyed," do you call Stevie personally? I know you’ve got to get permission from the publishing. How does that work?
DANILO PEREZ: We’ve actually never done that, but what happens is you have to ask for permission from the publishing and then start paying royalties, something like that. I have never contacted the person directly except for Ruben Blades, who I contacted and then he heard it and everything and he loved the version, but I would love to hear what Steve thinks some day, you know, that I can send him the version of "Overjoyed" that I did.
JAZZREVIEW: How has playing with Wayne Shorter, John Patitucci and Brian Blade influenced your project with Ben and Adam?
DANILO PEREZ: Well, it has had a tremendous influence, I would say. I’ve seen the gold around me--the gold and the diamonds from life, with my wife and my daughter, since I started playing with Wayne. You know, I went through a period where I was going through major changes and adjustments. Wayne, Brian and John have not only been tremendous companions in the music and as colleagues, but they’ve been tremendous friends. I’m just so incredibly blessed to be around this kind of energy because I have dreamed so much from their positivisms and from their love for life, man. Wayne is a warrior for happiness. He isn’t going to let anything get him down. I think after the last tragedy that he went through, I heard him saying that he’s committed to be being happy forever!
JAZZREVIEW: He’s been through so many tragedies, and for him to be just the positive guy that he is, man, that’s so strong.
DANILO PEREZ: And I’ve learned that so much. It takes a lot of courage to be happy, man, and to fight for that. So I’ve learned that from him. And I’ve also learned that the music is a neutral thin--that you’re creating values in your life for which you are happy for that transcend into whatever you’re doing. And you bring that dedication and love to whatever you’re doing and it shows up and leaves tread marks. It leaves fingerprints, you know.
John is an amazing friend and a great musician, and Brian. I’ve learned to fly with them, just pick up the little bag with no clothes on it and just throw myself in the air and see where we go--try and look in the mountains or a certain place, just try and walk together and try and reach it. No attachments and no bringing any excess luggage into the vibe, you know, the energy.
I’ve learned so many things. I’ve learned there’s a lot of mystery in life. Everything doesn’t have to be so laid out, you know. I learned to appreciate the most outrageous things that I would never pay attention to from being around them, from being around Wayne, you know. I appreciate that courage and creativity. It’s a very important practice in life.
JAZZREVIEW: You can tell that appreciation has come through you, man. I can hear it in your voice. I hear it in the passion you have for the music. I hear it in those beautiful girls, all three of them that you have, you know. Your family, man. It just comes out in the music. We hear it and we love you, man, and we appreciate you, brother.
DANILO PEREZ: Thank you. Thank you very, very much for that. I really appreciate this interview and the fact that we went beyond music. Music is only an instrument. It’s neutral, but life, if we can inspire people to hear what we’re doing in life, then, you know, mission accomplished.
JAZZREVIEW: Absolutely. That’s what we do. Thank you. Thanks for being part of the big drop of water. I appreciate you so much.