THE MUSICAL JOURNEY OF DANILO PÉREZ
“I’m excited about crossing boundaries,” said jazz pianist Danilo Pérez. “Playing with the Santa Fe Symphony is going to be really exciting, especially playing with my trio” — bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz. “We have a wonderful rapport. And playing music from Across the Crystal Sea, which has wonderful memories of the time I worked with Mr. Ogerman.”
On Sunday, Feb. 20, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, Pérez reprises a jazz trio-plus-strings outing he recorded on the 2008 disc Across the
Crystal Sea. That album features songs and orchestral arrangements by Claus Ogerman, the Polish composer/arranger who has worked with Mel Tormé, Bill Evans, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Diana Krall. Joining Pérez on the recording — besides the string players — are bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash, as well as percussionist Luis Quintero and, on two songs, singer Cassandra Wilson.
Following the afternoon program, Jazz Meets the Classics, a dinner party to benefit the Santa Fe Symphony takes place at La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa. The Bert Dalton Latin Jazz Ensemble provides music; Pérez, the guest of honor, sits this one out. Recipes from him — and from Michel Camilo, Branford Marsalis, and other jazz players — are on the dinner menu.
Pérez, born in Panama, is a longtime member of the Wayne Shorter Quartet. Over the past two decades, he has also performed or recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Paquito D’Rivera, Michael Brecker, Charlie Haden, and Lee Konitz. Among his accolades is a 2009 Legacy Award from the Smithsonian Latino Center. He co-founded the Panama Jazz Festival eight years ago. That event, currently directed by his wife, Patricia Zarate, has grown from an attendance of 8,000 in 2003 to 30,000 in 2010.
Pérez serves as the director of the Global Jazz Institute, a program of Berklee College of Music in Boston. “It provides the opportunity for students to work with masters like Joe Lovano, but also it’s social work through music and it’s interdisciplinary work, so they not only learn music but art and science,” Pérez said. “I’m providing them with experience in a jam-session setting and experiences in a retirement home and at the jail and in poor areas working with underprivileged kids. This is more mentorship than the traditional education in the classroom. And it is the concept of not just living in the bubble of, ‘Oh, this is my music,’ but to be out there doing things for the community.” Bassists John Patitucci and Ben Street are artists in residence for the Global Jazz Institute. Its faculty includes drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.
Most jazz musicians work with a tremendous variety of people. Asked about his experiences playing with drummers Jack DeJohnette, Roy Haynes, and Carrington, Pérez was effusive. “With Jack, when I did my first recording [1992’s Danilo Pérez], I remember really not knowing much what to do except for the chemistry I had heard with him and Keith Jarrett. It was intimidating because Jack plays almost the feeling of
being inside a washing machine and you don’t know where the beat is. It’s sort of circular. It took me a good while to really understand how to get in and get out of the way.
“With Roy, it was really where I made the connection with the Caribbean. He’s from Barbados, and I really understood the swing feel and the straight feel, that you can be in jazz and you can be more triple oriented or you can be more like one two, one two, one two three four, one two three four. Roy is the king of those subtleties, and that’s why he can play with anybody. He can access Caribbean roots in his playing and then he can access the marching band, more of the North American style. Also, playing with him taught me to learn the lyrics of the piece. He’s very much into the lyrics, and he’ll know you don’t know because you’ll have the phrase in the wrong place or something. You have to know how the words describe the melody.
“And Terri is like a natural extension of both of them, actually. It’s been very easy from the first day to play together. She’s just so musical, and she has everything from early jazz to funk, and she connects into Latin rhythm so easily.”
When he spoke to on Feb. 8, Pérez was about to start a week playing with the quartet led by the sage saxophonist Shorter and including Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. Pérez called his 10 years with that band “a fantastic experience, musically.” The first time they played together, Shorter made an unusual request. “He asked me to put ‘ water’ in the chords to get the sound he was imagining. I’m like, ‘What?’ … Then, after that, I went to the hotel and started thinking about what he really meant. I was watching a soap commercial, and at one point it kind of made sense, so I took that idea, and I started writing some voicings. The next day I played those chords I was working on, and he said, ‘ Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about, but now the water has to be really clean.’ It was just an interval, a very small interval that he could perceive what he called mud. And at that moment I said, ‘ Wow, this is going to be a journey. I’m ready for this.’ ”
Shorter was in Florida when interviewed him in 2002. The first thing he said was that he had just seen a double rainbow that “arced high above, then continued in a complete circle through the ocean and the streets. We saw the whole circle!” The saxophonist and composer is known for his innovative, energetic, nonconformist musical approach and for his affinity for science fiction. “A lot of the music that is coming [from Shorter] is inspired definitely from reading sci-fi books and watching movies,” Pérez said. “He has taught us, ‘Play what you think the world should be like. Or write music in the way if you want the world to be more optimistic or hopeful or more science fiction — just go for it.’ In my case, working with him, I’ve really developed my social activism in a profound way.”
Three-man crew: from left, Ben Street, Danilo Pérez, and Adam Cruz