Panama Jazz Festival’s gala concert on day three of the festival’s annual extravaganza.

Puerto Rican vocal legend Danny Rivera and pianist Danilo Pérez explore the Latin American romantic balladry tradition during the Panama Jazz Festival’s gala concert at Panama City’s spacious Anayansi Theater on day three of the annual extravaganza. Photo Credit: Mark Holston

The third day of Panama’s annual jazz festival turned out to be a banner day for the event’s founder and artistic director, the noted jazz pianist and composer Danilo Pérez. The University of Panama announced that it had granted the country’s famous native son an honorary doctorate. During the evening’s showcase concert, a gala event at Panama City’s principal performing arts venue, the Anayansi Theater, he shared the stage with his saxophone-playing wife, Patricia Zárate, the festival’s executive director, and his father, the well-known veteran bolero singer Danilo Pérez Urriola. The pianist also accompanied Puerto Rican vocalist Danny Rivera, a much revered figure throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Rivera had given Pérez the opportunity to accompany him when the fledgling pianist was only 14 years old. “I wouldn’t be here today without Danny,” he commented. Pérez also featured his lavish, rhythmically complex multi-movement composition and arrangement for large ensemble, performed by the Pan-American Detroit Big Band conducted by Chris Collins. All in a day’s work for one of the busiest musicians on the planet.

The festival’s ongoing theme of the importance of music education was underscored by the talent of Wayne State University pianist Daniel Meinecke, who wrote the big band arrangement for a soulful new composition co-authored by Pérez and Rivera, “Black is Beautiful.” Urriola joined Rivera on the stage for an touching reading of “Historia de un Amor,” a bolero classic written in 1955 by Panamanian composer Carlos Almaran. Rivera, mostly known for his romantic pop material, ignited the audience when he danced as he sang the ever popular “Obsesión,” a Puerto Rican bolero written in 1935. The evening concluded with arranger/conductor Luis Carlos Pérez (no relation to Danilo) leading the ensemble through several period-perfect recreations of the Latin big band sound from decades past.

The festival continues today with workshops, music therapy clinics, and an evening concert featuring pianist Randy Weston. The event’s final offering is a free, open air concert scheduled for Saturday at Ciudad del Saber (the City of Knowledge), a former U.S. army base bordering the Panama Canal.


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