2016 Panama Jazz Festival underway

Danilo P'erez and First Lady Lorena Castillo de Varela. Photo by Eric Jackson.
Danilo Pérez and First Lady Lorena Castillo de Varela. Photo by Eric Jackson.

It’s Jazz Festival time!

by Eric Jackson

If man is a political animal, is Danilo Pérez trying to domesticate the wild women of Panamanian politics and deprive the nation’s more lowbrow and almost invariably male politics junkies who were looking forward to full-contact kung fu in the National Assembly? He did get some laughs at the Panama Jazz Festival opening press conference with his call for “music therapy for the legislators.” The first lady seemed to enjoy that, but in her own statements kept the politics down to calling for increased support for such cultural events and sharing out thanks among God and the people working to put on the festival.

Pérez, the renowned pianist, composer and educator, may be the festival’s founder and artistic director but he was in a mood to share. “This is Panama’s festival, it’s not Danilo Pérez´s festival.” He spoke of what he’s trying to do not as this wonderful show — which it is — but as an educational mission. The successful study of music, he noted, promotes “responsibility, discipline and teamwork.” The educational side of the jazz festival, he claims, gives young people living in difficult circumstances opportunities that those without affluent parents generally don’t get, pointing to Colon violinist, arranger and band leader Joshue Ashby as an example of that.

Panama City’s vice mayor, Raisa Banfield, concurred. The development of young talent at the workshops and auditions, she said, is the most important thing going on this week at the City of Knowledge.

It’s not strictly about jazz, either. There has always been a classical element to the jazz festivals and this year’s festival includes Puerto Rican singer Danny Rivera, who performs many genres of music, the gospel scene’s Kevin Harris and local notables Luci and the Soul Brokers. (That latter band’s female lead vocalist is named Mayra Hurley — don’t tell The Church Lady.) Asked about other genres at the festival, Pérez quoted Herbie Hancock: “Music is the expression of humanity,” added that “Jazz is an expression of freedom” and opined that jazz maintains its vitality by drawing upon folklore, which comes in almost infinite varieties.

Concerts? Yes, there are plenty of those



Orion Morales
Orion Morales holds a workshop on Chilean music. Photo by Bill Bytsura / Panama Jazz Festival.


Kevin Harris
Getting back to the roots: Kevin Harris’s gospel seminar. Photo by Bill Bytsura / Panama Jazz Festival.


congo dancing
Volviendo hacia las raíces: the Grupo Congo Generacion Costeña de Colon at the opening press conference. Photo by Eric Jackson.


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