Born in Panama in 1965, he is considered one of the finest contemporary pianists and jazz composers of our era. Grammy award winner and former member of Dizzy Gillispie’s United Nations Orchestra, Pérez has developed a distinctive blend of Pan-American jazz that has attracted critical acclaim and loyal audiences around the world. Currently, Pérez serves as Artistic Director of the Panama Jazz Festival, Artistic Advisor of the innovative Mellon Jazz Up Close series at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, and Artistic Director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute.
Who are your favorite jazz greats?
Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker , Billie Holiday, Sara Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Steve Lacy, Roy Haynes, Sonny Rollins.
Why is it important for young people today to learn about jazz?
Because Jazz is an important part of American History and the development of American culture. It is also the example of how globalization should work at every level of society. In jazz, you are able to maintain your identity and exercise your creativity at the same time you practice community , all of this in a welcoming, non threatening environment.
What is your most memorable jazz 'moment'?
When I played a concert with my band in Panama while the US invasion was happening. We thought we may as well die playing, happily, all of us together.
Do you think that music (and jazz in particular) can promote peace and tolerance?
Absolutely. I have actually lived this fact. From my early days with Dizzy Gillespie, who was always trying to unite cultures through jazz, to Wayne Shorter, who's vision is global and his sense of unity is universal (rather than regional).
Why do you think a day like International Jazz Day is important?
Because jazz is an example of how we could work as a society, being creative and always looking for new ways to find solutions to our biggest problems in humanity. And we should have at least one day during the year to re-group and remember why we play this music.
What is one action the public could do to promote Jazz Day or the values of jazz?
One action the public could do to promote the values of jazz is during jazz day, listen carefully to everyone around you. Do not give feed back and for one day, just play a supportive role in your community without judgement, even if that brings you out of your comfort zone.
Do you think jazz brings together people from different cultures? Can you give examples from your personal experience?
I have so many examples its incredible, but some strong examples include the day I performed a concert in Panama while the US invasion was happening. People from all political sides got together, Americans and Panamanians. People who were in favor and against the invasion enjoyed some time together and where able to see the big picture of life and realized how bad we needed to talk and conciliate. We wanted that concert to last forever, because it brought a sense of proximity and peace, while the outside world was suffering destruction.
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