The Danilo Perez Big Band's 2007 release, The Panama Suite Project on ArtistShare Records, is more than an album that extends the breadth of Latin jazz with a distinctive blend of Pan American textures incorporating Southern and Central American folkloric and world music. The album additionally funds music workshops and the presitigous Panama Jazz Festival with all of the profits from The Panama Suite Project being donated to the Danilo Perez Foundation, which funds educational, scholarships, and mentoring programs in Panama. The Foundation runs the Panama Jazz Festival, which includes workshops and educational programs and has become the biggest music educational event for jazz in Latin America. www.panamajazzfestival.com.
Danilo Perez' talents as a composer, bandleader, arranger, and pianist have shown him to be virtuoso. Although the pianist on The Panama Suite Project is Colombia-native Gabriel Guerrero, one of Perez' students, the choice allowed Perez to concentrate on the larger aspects of the recording while giving the spotlight to a promising pianist.
Born in Panama in 1966, Danilo Perez started his musical studies at just 3-years old with his father, a bandleader and singer. By age 10, Perez was studying the European classical piano repertoire at the National Conservatory in Panama. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in electronics, he moved to the United States to enroll at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and, after changing his major to music, transferred to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. From 1985-88, while completing his studies in jazz composition, he performed with Jon Hendricks, Terence Blanchard,Claudio Roditi and Paquito D'Rivera, and produced the critically-acclaimed Reunion album on Messidor Records, featuring D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval.
Since the late ‘80s, he has toured and/or recorded with Wayne Shorter, Steve Lacy, Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Tito Puente, Wynton Marsalis, John Patitucci, Tom Harrell, Gary Burton, and Roy Haynes. Danilo first attracted the spotlight as the youngest member of Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra (1989-1992). This pivotal tenure solidified his command of the eclectic, post-bop Latin style, and brought him to the forefront on Gillespie’s Grammy® Award-winning recording, Live At The Royal Festival Hall on Enja Records, an appearance at the Kennedy Center, and worldwide touring.
In 1993, Danilo turned his focus to his own ensembles and recording projects. A bold, ingenious bandleader, he moved into the spotlight once again, this time for his own RCA/Novus CDs, the self-titled Danilo Pérez in 1993 and The Journey in 1994. DownBeat Magazine gave The Journey 4 1/2 stars and listed it among the best CDs of the ‘90s. The album also received a Jazziz Critics Choice Award. Although in 1994, Danilo appeared on Sandoval's Grammy®-winning album, Danzon, his focus in the early '90s was mainly on leading his own groups. As a bandleader, he earned three Grammy® nominations for his innovative recordings. His album, Motherland was nominated for two Grammy® Awards for "Best Latin Jazz Album," and also garnered his third win for "Best Jazz Album" from the prestigious Boston Music Awards. Motherland was named among the best albums of the year by such publications as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, San Diego Tribune, Billboard and JazzTimes. In 2002, he received a nomination from the Jazz Journalists Association for "Pianist of the Year."
In 1995, Danilo became the first Latin member of Wynton Marsalis’ band, and the first jazz musician to perform with the Panamanian Symphony Orchestra, which featured an expanded 80-piece orchestral version of The Journey. He also released two recordings for Impulse Records, PanaMonk in 1996 and Central Avenue in 1998, and won his first Grammy® nomination for "Best Jazz Album" for the latter. The New York Times praised PanaMonk as "a masterpiece of jazz synthesis." These four CDs accumulated numerous awards and Top Ten citations, firmly establishing Danilo’s leadership role in a new generation of jazz artists.
Danilo is also part of the Wayne Shorter Quartet. The new Wayne Shorter Quartet was voted "Best Small Ensemble of the Year" by the Jazz Journalists Association in 2002 and 2004. He is featured on Shorter’s Verve releases, Alegria and Footprints Live!, which received Five Stars from DownBeat Magazine. Shorter invited Danilo to join his first all-acoustic group after hearing him play, "It was adventurous and fresh," Shorter observes (JazzTimes, 2002). "He wasn’t playing to show off his technique. He was interested in telling stories." Favorably compared to the ‘60s Miles Davis group that featured Shorter, the new quartet displays a remarkable freedom.
Currently, Perez serves as the Ambassador of Goodwill for Unicef, Cultural Ambassador of his native country of Panama, President and Founder of the Panama Jazz Festival, Artistic Advisor of the innovative Mellon Jazz Up Close series at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, and a faculty member of New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music in Boston. He also continues to play with Ben Street and Adam Cruz, musicians that have been working with him for more than two years.
Says Perez, "We all try to practice brotherhood, love, equality and freedom in our personal lives and in our music. All of us have become a family, and there is a feeling of celebration, of transcending communication, when we play that it is very magical to me."