Panama Jazz Festival: January 10-15, 2011

Panama Jazz Festival: January 10-15, 2011
Emilie Pons By

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8th Panama Jazz Festival
Panama City, Panama
January 10-15, 2011
Being a jazz musician anywhere is difficult, and perhaps even more so in Panama, Mexico, or even South America. However, the Danilo Pérez Foundation, at Plaza Herrera, in San Felipe, the heart of the historical part of Panama City, makes it easier. Every year the Danilo Pérez Jazz Festival brings musicians from France, Boston and New York, as well as young Panamanian, Chilean, Argentinian, Mexican or Colombian jazz musicians to mingle; the students can thus learn from maestros such as Tom and John Patitucci, Matt Marvuglio, Conrad Herwig, Claudia Acuna, Brian Lynch, Danilo Pérez himself, and many other brilliant minds and increase their knowledge of the music.

For highly gifted Mexican guitarist Nacho Alcantara, who came to play at this year's festival with the Guadalajaran Foundation Tonica, directed by trumpeter Gilberto Cervantes, "jazz education is a personal teaching process, like an oral tradition, so the impact of having great jazz musicians around you teaching you stuff is big; it is the real essence of jazz education."

Alcantara adds that "the Danilo Pérez jazz festival is really important because it focuses on making Latin American musicians grow. Danilo Pérez is really interested in giving jazz to Panama people, to poor people, to people from everywhere. It is a great labor." For Alcantara, with the festival, "jazz is coming out of the States, people are coming out of the States to cultivate the music with other great musicians from all around the world."

Of course, Panama is not known for its jazz scene. The astonishing 20 year-old Panamanian saxophonist ED Samuel Batista thinks it is hard to find people to play with in Panama. For him, "with the festival, it is totally different. Once the festival ends, it's hard to learn." Talented 26 year-old Panamanian flautist Melvin Lam Zanetti explains that club owners in Panama are in favor of "ambient music rather than proper shows." Charismatic and insightful Chilean saxophonist Patricia Zárate adds that there are "two or three jazz clubs" in Panama, as well as "casinos [where musicians play] salsa every weekend. [But] restaurants are starting to have music every week."

Fortunately, the festival is growing every single year and it looks like it will keep growing. During one week, this wonderful event offers clinics, workshops and master classes at the ATLAPA Convention Center. Lam Zanetti believes the festival, due to Panama's geographical location, is a "most helpful" and convenient platform for Latin American musicians. Pérez's vision proves breathtaking, on more than on one level: not only does he really bring jazz to Panama, but he also ventures into helping Panamanian youth in real need. Additionally, his festival is a way for a lot of musicians from Latin America to audition in Panama with the prospect of entering an American music Institution.

For instance, ED Samuel Batista—currently a student of the Danilo Pérez Foundation— attended the Berklee five-week summer program in 2009. For him, the festival is educating people about jazz. Every year more people learn about it. Batista's teacher is Patricia Zárate herself, Danilo Pérez's wife. Batista practices several hours a day (sometimes nine), and sees Zárate a couple of times a year. This original and vibrant saxophonist recently graduated from the art school of INAC (Instituto Nacional de Cultura de Panama). Batista started playing at age 15 and will certainly continue charming his audiences.

From left:Patricia Zárate, Danilo Pérez, Maria Eugenia Herrera, at the Panama Teatro Nacional

With her husband's foundation, Zárate has seen "miracles happen." As she explains, Pérez's dream has always been to "bring a festival to Panama." And "in 2003, his dream came true." The foundation was born in 2005 in order to "institutionalize ... community [oriented] [projects]." The foundation has helped create "scholarship opportunities" in a "country of three million people, with 36% of the population [living] under the poverty line." Zárate describes her husband as "a visionary and an idealist." Through his work, she has heard "horrible bands sound great." She has "seen bad- behaved kids transform with the music [and become] in control of themselves emotionally and spiritually." She adds that "it is very difficult to do anything in Latin America and to have a first world festival is a miracle. The government has given scholarships to students who had trouble eating every day. Untalented people have transformed [in]to talented people."


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