The fourth day of the annual Panama Jazz Festival focused on jazz talent cultivated locally in this small Central American nation. The performances underscored the strong cultural orientation toward jazz here. Panama has been a mecca in Latin America for the development of national musicians of true international stature. Among the many greats who have gone from their home in Panama to the world stage are pianist Danilo Perez, the festival’s founder and director, pianist and arranger Luis Russell, saxophonists Carlos Garnett, Mauricio Smith and Carlos Ward, and drummer Billy Cobham, among many others.
For the festival’s afternoon “Global Stage” presentation, Panamanian violinist and vocalist Joshue Ashby and his group C3 offered a rhythmically-zesty set focusing on funky avant-garde and Panamanian-rooted themes from the country’s rich inventory of folkloric modes.
The evening’s spotlight event showcased many of Panama’s best jazz talent in a seven member ensemble dubbed the Panama Jazz All Stars. Their set was a tribute to the late vocalist Violeta Green, who was a highly regarded member of the country’s jazz elite decades ago. Luz Acosta (photo), Panama’s reigning jazz vocal diva, paid homage to Green with heartfelt readings of such standards as “Unbelievable” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” The septet, under the direction of alto and flute player Carlos Agrazal, also breezed through several hard bop arrangements that featured trumpeter Roberto Ruiz and the deft pianist Juan De Leon.
The festival concludes this evening with an outdoor concert on this former U.S. army base near Panama City. The event, a celebration of jazz in its many forms, takes on the festive spirit of a carnival celebration and is expected to attract close to 10,000 fans.
Article and photo by Mark Holston