“Groove them out!” Danilo Pérez instructs musicians as a means of dealing with societal and political problems faced by the world today. “They mess with the groove that we create,” adds the Panama-born, Grammy-winning pianist, composer and educator, who will be performing in New Orleans twice this week.
Pérez, master pianist as a leader, sideman and member of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, is also the founder of the Panama Jazz Festival and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute.
You’re bring students from your institute to perform with you?
What I’m doing is providing an amazing platform where youth can collaborate. The institute’s main goal is to give opportunities to gifted musicians to have enough experience to become ambassadors and social activists as well as artists.
Did introducing the students to the birthplace of jazz play a part?
Definitely it is a component. You cannot learn this music without having that experience. New Orleans is a fundamental city. They breathe jazz, they breathe music, they breathe culture. In order to change the world through jazz you have to have a foundation.
It did change me when I went there for the first time. When I came to the United States from Panama [in the 1980s], I saw jazz as something that they do in New York. But when I went to New Orleans [for Jazz Fest 1998], New Orleans made me feel so welcome that I started researching the connection between New Orleans and Panama and found many.
You’ve dedicated your life to education?
My dad was my first teacher—all the fundamentals and everything I’m doing nowadays. My dad wrote a thesis in 1967 where he made a case that music should be used at a young age in the curriculums to teach other subjects—mathematics, science—not just music.
My next teacher in jazz was Mr. Dizzy Gillespie and he taught me that jazz was the greatest tool for diplomacy and inter-cultural dialogue. Wayne [Shorter] taught me that music is for the betterment of humanity and that you can’t grow as a musician and not grow as a human being.
What’s the instrumentation of the group?
It’s a quartet—a woman from Australia is on drums, the tenor saxophonist is from the United States and the bassist is from South Africa.
What will the repertoire be at Snug Harbor?
We’re going to play music from my older and recent recordings like Panamonk, Panama 500, Motherland and Children of the Light.