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(Published: October 27, 2010)

One of Panama's most significant cultural events, the Eighth Annual Panama Jazz Festival will be held on January 10-15, 2011. Already a reference in the global jazz calendar and attracting more than an estimated 100,000 people since its inception, this year's edition is dedicated to Victor "Vitín" Paz, one of the most remarkable musicians in the history of Panamanian popular music.

Festival founder/Artistic Director Danilo Pérez & his trio - featuring bassist Ben Street, drummer Adam Cruz, special guests, Indian-American alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, Puerto Rican percussionist Paoli Mejias, flutist Matt Marvuglio, Portuguese vocalist Sara Serpa - are set to perform music from and celebrate their new critically acclaimed release, Providencia. Among the other artists slated to headline are Chilean vocalist Claudia Acuña's Quartet, Grammy nominated trombonist Conrad Herwig's The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock, Grammy winning trumpeter Brian Lynch, and The Victor "Vitín" Paz Orchestra with special guests.

Additional performers include: bassist Ricardo Del Fra and the Conservatory of Paris Ensemble, The Harlem String Quartet, a Flamenco Jazz Band, and the Pan-American Percussion Ensemble.

"When we started in 2003, very humbly, it was 'madness' as some told us, and we wondered if we'd have a second edition. Now, we are in our eighth," states Pérez. "Thanks to the vision and work of many, the Panama Jazz Festival is becoming an event that is a cultural reference in Latin America. For a week in January, Panama is the capital of jazz in Latin America and that is an achievement of all of us, for all of us."

Reflecting on this year's theme, Pérez states, "Vitín Paz is one of the Panamanian masters who has left his mark in the international music scene."

Paz's extraordinary career includes work with masters such as Dizzy Gillespie, Nat King Cole, Benny Moré, Mario Bauzá, Tito Rodriguez, and Frank Sinatra.

Pérez continues, "What is especially noteworthy and we'd like to call attention to with this tribute, is that Maestro Paz, over the course of five decades, has performed an extensive array of musical styles including traditional Jazz, Latin Jazz, and Broadway shows with musicians from many genres. After all of this experience, Paz returned to Panama to share his experience with the youth, helping to improve music education in the country."

Paz is the festival's first living honoree and will actively participate in educational programs/events.

Previous festivals have been dedicated to figures such as pianist Luis Russel, who worked as the Music Director for Louis Armstrong's band beginning in 1935; pianist Victor Boa - known as the "Master of the Panamanian Keyboard"; flutist Mauricio Smith, who performed with a variety of musicians ranging from Mongo Santamaria to Charles Mingus; vocalist Barbara Wilson, whom Pérez once called "the Billie Holiday of Panama"; composer and bassist Clarence Martin Sr., who influenced several generations of Panamanian musicians from a wide range of musical styles; and Ellerton Oswald, best known as Sonny White, who recorded with Billie Holiday.

The Panama Jazz Festival's Commitment to Education

A core mission of the Panama Jazz Festival is music education.

"While the Panama Jazz Festival is a music festival, our intentions, our hopes, go well beyond music," declares Pérez."The festival was founded with the objective of contributing to the cultural, social, touristic, academic and economic strengthening of Panama. And for us it's not a line in a speech. We've had, and we'll have again, exceptional artists giving us the best they have on stage. But just as, or even more important, is their hidden work, offstage, in clinics, seminars and workshops. There we are talking about giving our young tools to grow, discipline, good examples and, especially, hope and opportunities.

The educational component of the festival, where all invited artists will teach master classes and hold music clinics for students from all parts of Latin America, will be held at Atlapa Convention Center. During the festival, several institutions make Panama their Latin American musical hub, offering lessons and holding auditions for admission and scholarships to their different academic programs. The institutions that confirmed their participation include: Berklee College of Music and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, New England Conservatory, Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, Conservatory of Paris, Siena Jazz Foundation, Fundacion Tonica from Mexico and The Golandsky Institute.

"The educational component of the festival is the highlight of the festival for students from all latin America, explains Pérez. "In 2010 we had more than 800 students from Panama, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, USA, Mexico. Each year, we hope to have even more students from other countries."

Also of note among the festival's educational programs, the newly established Berklee Global Jazz Institute, based in Boston, MA and led by festival Artistic Director, Danilo Pérez, will provide instruction, performances and will do social work with Panamanian youth. The Golandsky Institute, will offer a week-long program of daily master classes for jazz and classical pianists as well as other instrumentalists, emphasizing the application of the Taubman approach to build technical ease and to explore musical interpretation. This approach has proven to be highly effective in the resolution of technical and artistic limitations, as well as in curing and preventing repetitive stress injuries in musicians.

The Panama Jazz Festival also offers master classes on Panamanian Folkloric music taught by the Maestro of the Panamanian tambor, Ricaurte Villareal and classical music lessons with students and fellows from the New England Conservatory.

Underscoring its focus on education, the Panama Jazz Festival and the participating educational institutions, have provided scholarships valued over one million dollars.
"To educate a child, to offer opportunities, is also to change a family, a neighborhood, a city and perhaps a country," states Pérez. What we do is not just to educate better musicians but better citizens."

About Danilo Pérez

Pianist, composer, educator and social activist, Danilo Pérez is among the most influential and dynamic musicians of our time.

Born in Panama in 1965, Pérez started his musical studies when he was three years old with his father, a bandleader and singer. By age 10, he was studying the European classical piano repertoire at the National Conservatory in Panama. After receiving his bachelor's degree in electronics in Panama, he studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. From 1985-88, while still a student, he performed with Jon Hendricks, Terence Blanchard, Claudio Roditi and Paquito D'Rivera. Quickly established as a young master, he soon toured and/or recorded with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie (with the trumpeter's United Nations Orchestra, 1989-1992). 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.

In 1993, Pérez turned his focus to his own ensembles and recording projects, releasing eight albums as a leader, earning a Grammy nomination for Central Avenue (1989) and nominations for a Grammy and a Latin Grammy for Motherland (2000).

While he continues to lead his own trio, featuring Ben Street and Adam Cruz, and remains a member of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, Pérez also serves as Artistic Director of the Panama Jazz Festival, Artistic Advisor of the Jazz Up Close series at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Board Member at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, and Artistic Director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute at Berklee College of Music.

Pérez, who served as Cultural Ambassador to the Republic of Panama and Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF, has received a variety of awards for his musical achievements, activism and social work efforts. In 2009, he was one of five Panamanian individuals to receive the prestigious Legacy Award from The Smithsonian Latino Center in Washington D.C. The award recognizes Panamanian achievement in the arts, science and the humanities. Additionally, Perez was awarded the 2010 ASICOM International Award by the Ibero-American Association of Communication (ASICOM) and the University of Oviedo (Principality of Asturias). ASICOM gives this prize each year to individuals who have made or are making significant contributions in IBEROAMERICA, helping to build and rebuild that historical region through their work and vision.

He released the critically acclaimed, Providencia, on August 31 - his debut for Mack Avenue Records label.

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