The annual Panama Jazz Festival wrapped up this past weekend with an outdoor concert featuring many of the musicians who had performed through the proceeding week. The free-to-the-public event attracts thousands of Panamanians to the festival’s site, a former U.S. army base in the former canal zone. Today, the installation is known as the Ciudad del Saber — the City of Knowledge. It is home to a campus of the University of Panama and a wide range of institutions, from the United Nations to The Nature Conservancy. The final late afternoon of concert presentations is staged in a quadrangle that was used for troop marching formations in its earlier incarnation.
Although small in scale compared to many jazz festivals around the world, the PJF excels in its mission to provide music education opportunities to hundreds of local youth. The 14th edition of the event featured dozens of clinics presented by visiting professors and students from such elite organizations as Berklee College of Music, the New England Conservatory, Eastman School of Music and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Institute of Jazz. Funds raised by the festival provide scholarships for students to study in the U.S. or at the Panama City-based Danilo Perez Foundation. The PJF also presented a multi-day symposium dedicated to the history of the music of Panamanians of Africans descent and an international conference on music therapy, directed by Patricia Zarate, wife of festival founder and noted pianist Perez. Zarate, a native of Chile, is the first woman from her country to earn a degree in this emerging field of therapy.
The informality of the festival is one of its main attractions; in the above photo, bassist Lee Seung-Ha of the Panama Jazz All Stars shares the stage with bassist Isaac Levien of the ensemble presented by the Berklee Global Jazz project. Seung-Ha boldly asked the group’s guest artist, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington if he could sit in, and she said, “Why not?” The interplay between the two bassists provided one of many festival highlights.