Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Perez, Danilo

Pianist Danilo Perez has helped expand Latin jazz out from its Afro-Cuban roots into a broader range of influences. A veteran of Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra, Perez has drawn on the music of his native Panama to reimagine the compositions of Thelonious Monk and in his work with drummer Roy Haynes and saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

                            Danilo Pérez by Jos. L. Knaepen

Danilo Enrico Pérez Jr., was born on December 29th, 1965 in Panama City, Panama. Danilo’s father was a mambo singer who bought him a set of bongos when he was three years old. Perez has stated that by age seven or eight, he knew that he wanted to devote his life to music. By age ten, he was studying classical piano at Panama's National Conservatory, and also studied electronics.

In 1984, he won a scholarship to attend the University of Indiana-Pennsylvania and after one year he transferred to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. While Boston, the young Pérez decided that music was his calling as he said in an interview, “Being around that scene (Berklee) really made me decide I wanted to go full force with music.” Upon graduation, Pérez worked with vocalist Jon Hendricks and soon left to join saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera’s band. Pérez joined D’Rivera in 1988 and stayed with him until 1993. During this time he also toured with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra.

Playing with Gillespie had a profound and lasting impact on the young pianist. He stated that, “He taught me a lot about music. How to connect, how to make one note work in a lot of different chords.” Pérez performed with Gillespie through 1993 and made memorable appearances with the Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and at the Royal Festival Hall, which was recorded and released by the Enja label. In 1992, Pérez released his self-titled debut album for RCA/Novus and followed this in 1993 with his solo album The Journey.

In 1995, Perez toured with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis in Eastern Europe. He also returned to Panama to play with the National Symphony and performed a program of music by composer George Gershwin. Also during this time, Pérez moved to Boston where he took a teaching position at the New England Conservatory where he still teaches.

Pérez stayed extremely active during the mid to late 1990s, playing in the groups of Tom Harrell, Slide Hampton, and David Sanchez. He also toured South America with vibraphonist Gary Burton in 1996 and played with saxophonist Joe Lovano that same year.

In 1996, Pérez released the album PanaMonk, which combined his take on the rhythms of Thelonious Monk songs and adding a Latin twist to them with the inclusion of four original compositions. Featured on the album were his interpretations of “Evidence and Four in One" and the Pérez original “Hot Bean Strut.

In 1999, Pérez recorded and toured with drummer Roy Haynes. Along with bassist John Patitucci, they can be heard on the songs “Bright Mississippi" and “Dear Old Stockholm, both of which are taken from the album The Roy Haynes Trio Danilo Perez and John Patitucci.

Pérez began the new millennium as a member of saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s new acoustic group, with Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. In 2002, Shorter released his first album featuring this new rhythm section entitled Footprints Live!, which was produced by bassist Marcus Miller and was released on Verve Records. The group’s next album Alegria was a studio album that featured several traditional songs but was mainly constructed around original compositions by Shorter.

Also featured on the album are pianist Brad Mehldau and drummer Terry Lynn Carrington. The quartet of Shorter, Blade, Patitucci, and Pérez toured the world between 2002 and 2004. Some of these live recordings culminated in the 2005 live release Beyond the Sound Barrier, which featured the songs “Joy Ryder" and "As Far as the Eye Can See."

Pérez is an innovative and conceptual pianist, and one of the first of a generation of Latin players who are equally at home in a wide range of genres. Now in his early forties, Pérez has two daughters and lives and teaches in Boston, Massachusetts when he’s not touring.

Select Discography

As Danilo Pérez

Danilo Pérez (RCA/Novus, 1992)

The Journey (RCA/Novus, 1993)

PanaMonk (Impulse!, 1996)

Central Avenue (Impulse!, 1998)

Motherland (Verve, 2000)

With Wayne Shorter

Footprints Live! (Verve, 2002)

Alegria (Verve, 2003)

Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve, 2005)

With Paquito D’Rivera

Havana Café (Chesky, 1991)

Who’s Smoking (Candid, 1992)

Contributor: Jared Pauley