Panama Jazz Festival: January 10-15, 2011
Every year the festival is dedicated to an older Panamanian jazz musician; last year it was pianist Sonny White; in 2007, singer Barbara Wilson and in 2006 flutist Mauricio Smith. This year the festival paid tribute to trumpet player Vitin Paz, and for the very first time the honored musician was present, because he was still living. Pérez has thus managed to create an international intergenerational jazz festival. The list of musicians Paz has played with is very long, and includes Benny More, Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri, Frank Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole, Tony Bennett, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, The Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Sarah Vaughan, Bill Evans, Aretha Franklin, James Brown. The 78 year -old Paz currently teaches at the University of Panama, and is the leader of its big band. He also has his own quintet. According to Lam Zanetti, "Paz is not only a memorable trumpet player but also an influential teacher."
For a lot of Panamanian volunteers working during the festival (most of them are musicians themselves), the festival is like a family. What Pérez keeps creating and fostering is a tight community of musicians and music oriented individuals trying to help make the music happen and continue to happen.
For Alcantara, "jazz is a collective experience. When you play jazz you play with other people, you're always with other people. The essence of jazz is communication. So when you're performing, you have to communicate; in order to create a great solo, a great ambiance, a great energy, you have to communicate with the guys you're playing with; you have to learn to study, have fun with them; communication is the nature of jazz."
During his inspiring master class on Thursday, January 13, 2011, Pérez played some African music and talked about "democracy through different rhythms." While playing pieces from Mozambique, he mentioned the community's different points of view reflected in the rhythm (6, 4, 3). For him, "everybody has an important message." While playing some Tanzania pieces (in 6/8), Pérez asked his students to pay attention to the call- and-response patterns. He referred to African music as healing and communication- oriented, and he encouraged his audience of musicians to ask themselves the following questions: "What do you want to talk about? What is your story?" For Pérez, "the conversation matters [and not the instruments]; at the end of the day it's about connecting, improvising in the moment. We do it all the time. Everything we practice has to have a relationship with the human heart. When it stops we die."
With bands as varied as the Harlem String Quartet, the Danilo Pérez Trio, the Daniel Garcia Trio or musicians as breathtakingly talented as Brian Lynch or Paoli Mejias, it would have been difficult, this year, to not be delighted with the festival's music.
The festival started on Monday January 10th and ended with a most rhythmic "descarga" (a Latin jazz session) between Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th. Musicians played every single day, at the ATLAPA convention center, in the San Francisco neighborhood of Panama City, but also at the nightly jam sessions of the El Panama hotel, in the El Cangrejo neighborhood. Had the El Panama Hotel drinks been a little cheaper, perhaps musicians might have enjoyed the jam sessions even more.
One of the most important shows was on Wednesday night, at the lovely, cozy and refined National Theatre of the Old town of Panama (Casco Antiguo de la ciudad), where the Danilo Pérez Foundation is located. The American ambassador of Panama, who had hosted all the festival people the night before at his house, was sitting close to the stage. This extraordinary concert started with a series of beautiful compositions by bassist Ricardo Del Fra's jazz section of the Conservatoire National de Paris, and was followed by the astonishing performance of the Harlem String Quartet. The university of Panama's big band closed the show.
Three inspiring female singers, Claudia Acuña, Idania Dowman and Diana Duran, each with a style of their own, opened the big band's performance with "Mambo Rincon." They continued with La Lupe's "Que te pedi" and Gershwin's "The Man I love." ED Samuel Batista, Melvin Lam Zanetti and saxophonist Nestor Gonzalez, among other stunning musicians, were part of the band. Lam Zanetti and Paz chose all the songs together and Paz, in the course of his long and prolific career, has recorded each one of the songs performed that evening.