Danilo Pérez (born 1965) is a Panamanian pianist and composer.


Early life:

Danilo Pérez was born in Panama in 1965. He is considered one of the finest contemporary pianists and jazz composers of our era.

Danilo started his musical training at 3 years old with his father Danilo Sr, a professional bandleader and singer, gave Danilo Jr. his first set of bongos. By the time he was 10 years of age he was studying the European Classical Piano repertoire at the National Conservatory in Panama, eventually transferring to the Berklee College of Music to study Jazz composition and then serving as a professor at the New England Conservatory of Music. While growing up in Panama, Perez was notably influenced by the works of Gershwin, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and his mentor in spirit Thelonious Monk.


When Danilo Perez moved to the United States his prominence increased immensely. He played with living jazz legends who played a key role in shaping Perez's technique and style. Between 1985 and 1988, while being a student at Berklee, Perez played with Jon Hendricks, Terence Blanchard, Claudio Roditi and Paquito D'Rivera. He also was part of the Grammy winning album, Danzon. Wynton Marsalis asked Perez to tour Poland with his band in 1995; Danilo Perez was the first Latin artist to perform with Marsalis. For the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Perez and Marsalis played together again. He performed as a special guest at President Clinton's Inaugural Ball, and played the piano on the Bill Cosby theme song.

He also played with Dizzy Gillespie, Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Tito Puente, Gerardo Núñez, Wynton Marsalis, John Patitucci, Tom Harrell, Gary Burton, Wayne Shorter, Roy Haynes, Steve Lacy and others.


Conceivably Perez biggest influence in terms of style and thought was Dizzy Gillespie. Perez had the opportunity to perform with Gillespie and his United Nations Orchestra from 1989 until the band leader's death in 1992. Perez states in a press report for the Independent that "One of the things Dizzy taught me was to learn about my own heritage even more than I knew already. He said it was more important for jazz for you to get to what your roots are, than to learn about other things..." Danilo assimilated the be-bop and post-bop styles. He was also a member of the Grammy winning record Live At The Royal Festival Other influential studies that Perez has achieved have been his album for Impulse! records, PanaMonk, which is a study of and tribute to Thelonious Monk. According to DownBeat magazine, Pana Monk is one of the most important jazz piano albums.

Recordings as a Leader:

In 1994, Perez recorded his most personal album, The Journey, a musical account of the torturous trip African slaves made across the oceans in the hulls of the slave ships. The album made it to the top ten jazz lists of New York's Village Voice, the New York Times, Billboard Magazine, and the Boston Globe. It also allowed Perez to become a recognizable name in the jazz community. Perez set up the album as a dream series tracing the route of slaves, stolen or sold from their homes and transported across the sea. The Journey begins with "The Capture," makes it way through "The Taking," "Chains," The Voyage," and finishes with "Libre Spiritus." Renowned saxophonist David Sanchez and percussionist Giovani Hildalgo play on the album, which was recorded in two days at the Power Station in New York City.

His third album, PanaMonk, Perez paid tribute to Thelonious Monk as well as all the other musicians he had been in contact with up to that point. An almost entirely wordless album, PanaMonk lets the music speak for itself. A listener can hear the appreciation and love Perez has for improvisational playing and composing, all of which Monk was revered for. Perez told JazzTimes Magazine, "His (Monk's) music was the epitome of small group playing, the epitome of jazz music. If you really want to know about jazz and swing, he's one of the best to go to.

Perez fourth album, Central Avenue, earned in 1998 the Grammy nomination for best Jazz album of the year. Central Avenue is a blend of blues, folk songs, a sprinkling of Caribbean influence and some Middle Eastern melodies thrown in for added spice. Tommy LiPuma, who worked with Perez on PanaMonk, produced the album. Central Avenue is a combination of all the cultures that can be encountered.He arranged the ensemble of bassists John Pattutucci and Avishai Cohen, and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. Most of the songs were done in one take in order so to not lose the freshness of the session. The only song not done in one take was "Panama Blues." For that song, which features Panamanian folk singer Raul Vital, Perez recorded the folksinger and his chorus of mejorana singers in the mountain regions of Panama and then brought the recording back to New York where he and his ensemble added their musical touch. Mejorana is an improvisational style of singing where the singers can go on for hours, especially when supplied with alcohol. Perez told Graybow of Billboard, "I heard the blues in their voices, much like the blues down in Mississippi," and instantly wanted to record them. But, Perez didn't want to take the singer out of his environment and thus lose the influence.

Wayne Shorter Quartet:

In 2000, Danilo joined Wayne Shorter, to form Shorter's great quartet with John Patitucci and Brian Blade. Perez has played concerts with the group extensively since then, and appears on all three of the recordings Shorter has made during this period: Footprints Live! (2002), Alegría (2003), and Beyond the Sound Barrier (2005).

A resident of Boston, Danilo Perez serves as the artistic director of the Berklee College of Music Global Jazz Institute, a program for talented jazz students from around the world.