As a solo artist and as a collaborator with jazz giants from Dizzy Gillespie to Wayne Shorter, Grammy Award-winning pianist-composer Danilo Pérez has been lauded as one of the most creative forces in contemporary music. With jazz as the anchoring foundation, Pérez’s music is a blend of Panamanian roots, Latin American folk music, West African rhythms, European impressionism — promoting music as a borderless and multidimensional bridge between all people.
Born in Panama in 1965, Pérez started his musical studies when he was 3 years old with his father, a bandleader and singer. By age 10, he was studying European classical piano repertoire at the National Conservatory in Panama. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in electronics in Panama, he studied jazz composition at the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
While still a student, he performed with Jon Hendricks, Terence Blanchard, Slide Hampton, Claudio Roditi and Paquito D’Rivera. Quickly established as a young master, he soon toured or recorded with artists such as the Dizzy Gillespie United Nations Orchestra during 1989-1992, Jack DeJohnette, Steve Lacy, Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden, Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Tito Puente, Wynton Marsalis, Tom Harrell, Gary Burton and Roy Haynes.
In 1993, Pérez turned his focus to his own ensembles and recording projects, releasing several albums as a leader, earning Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations for “Central Avenue” (1998), “Motherland” (2000), “Across the Crystal Sea” (2008) and “Providencia” (2010). In 1996, he was signed by producer Tommy Lipuma to join the Impulse! label and recorded “Panamonk,” a tribute to Thelonious Monk, which according to DownBeat magazine, is one of the most important piano albums in the history of jazz. Pérez’s album “Central Avenue,” featured mejoranera (a style of Panamanian folkloric singing) and was chosen as one of the 10 best recordings across genres by Time magazine in 1998.
A collaboration between Pérez and the prolific composer and arranger Claus Ogerman, Across the Crystal Sea” (2008) was praised by the Guardian as “So ultra-smooth, it achieves something like a state of grace.” Ogerman said, “This is a record I wanted to make before I leave the planet.” Pérez made his Mack Avenue Records debut in 2010 with “Providencia.” The album was nominated for a 2011 Grammy Award in the category of best instrumental jazz album.
Pérez joined the Wayne Shorter Quartet in 2010 with John Patitucci and Brian Blade. This latest iteration from Shorter has been known as a unique and predominant force in improvisational music both at their historic live performances and on several recordings. In 2018, Blue Note records released “EMANON” from the Wayne Shorter Quartet, which won a Grammy in the category of best jazz instrumental album in 2019.
For several years, Pérez has also been touring with his trio featuring Ben Street and Adam Cruz, and with Children of the Light, a collaboration with fellow Wayne Shorter Quartet members John Patitucci and Brian Blade. Mack Avenue released the “Children of the Light” album in 2015 to great critical acclaim.
Pérez’s current touring project, the Global Messengers, spreads the idea that music can serve as a natural remedy to unfortunate situations, providing an uplifting message, connection and common ground. The ensemble features musicians from diverse cultural backgrounds, coming together to build community through music.
As a composer, Pérez has been commissioned by the Lincoln Center, Chicago Jazz Festival and Imani Winds Quintet, among others. His octet for members of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela was commissioned by Carnegie Hall. In 2014, the Banff Centre commissioned Pérez to write a piano quintet for the Cecilia String Quartet titled Camino de Cruces, and he also composed the music for the Museum of Biodiversity in Panama, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.
In 2015, Pérez premiered another two new compositions: Expeditions: Panamania 2015 was premiered at the Pan American games in Toronto and his Detroit World Suite La Leyenda de Bayano was premiered at the Detroit Jazz Festival.
Pérez, who served as Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF, has received many awards for his musical achievements, activism and social work efforts. He is a recipient of the United States Fellowship 2018, and the 2009 Smithsonian Legacy Award. He currently serves as UNESCO Artist for Peace, cultural ambassador to the Republic of Panama, founder and artistic director of the Panama Jazz Festival and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute in Boston’s Berklee College of Music.