Danilo Pérez

Artistic Director
Class of 
  • Latin music
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Grammy Award–winning pianist and composer Danilo Pérez's Pan-American jazz—incorporating the music of the Americas, folkloric music, and world music—has attracted critical acclaim and loyal audiences. Whether leading his own ensembles or touring with renowned jazz masters such as Wayne Shorter, Roy Haynes, and Steve Lacy, Pérez has made a decidedly fresh imprint on contemporary music, guided, as always, by his love for jazz.

As a bandleader, Pérez has earned three Grammy nominations for his ebullient and innovative recordings. He has also worked as a music educator in the U.S. and around the world for more than 20 years. He serves as a UNESCO Artist for Peace, a cultural ambassador for Panama, and as artistic director of the Panama Jazz Festival. In previous years, he has served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and he has received numerous awards for his social work in Latin America.

  • Career Highlights
    • Leader of the Danilo Pérez Trio and the Motherland Project
    • Member of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, the Roy Haynes Trio, and the Steve Lacy-Danilo Pérez Duo Project
    • Performances with Michael Brecker, Jack DeJohnette, Paquito D'Rivera, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Haden, Roy Haynes, Jon Hendricks, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, Wynton Marsalis, Tito Puente, Claudio Roditi, and Wayne Shorter
    • Nominations for pianist-composer of the year
    • Honorary doctorate, University of Panama
    • Judge of the Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition 2006
    • Publications and appearances in Time, DownBeat (cover), Jazziz (cover), JazzTimes, Billboard, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times
    • Panamonk chosen as one of the 50 essential piano recordings by DownBeat
    • UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and former cultural ambassador of Panama
  • Awards
    • Winner of a Grammy Award in 2006 for Best Jazz Instrumental Group
    • Latin Grammy Awards
    • International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago 2015 Gloria Award
  • Education
    • Alumnus, Berklee College of Music

In Their Own Words

"I had an incredible teacher in my father, who viewed music as a very powerful tool to change people's lives—and that's my main interest. When I was seven, a guy came and spent the whole day fixing our washing machine. While he worked, my father and I were playing music. As the guy was getting ready to leave, my father gave him something to play: ch-k-ch, ch-k-ch, ch-k-ch. He played with us for an hour. Then my father asked him, 'How much do I owe you for the work you did?' The guy said no money was needed; but said, 'How much do I owe you for the experience?'"

"I went to Panama in 1989 and right after I arrived, the U.S. invasion happened. I performed the concert anyway (I thought, if I die, I prefer to die playing). That day, people for and against the invasion came together to listen to music. That's the power of music."

"When I teach, I talk a lot about values. For example, you can learn the meaning of democracy by understanding the individual parts of a groove. When the guitar part goes che-ka, che-ka, and the bass player goes tun, tun, tun-tun, I say, 'See? When that tun-tun meets the che-ka, che-ka and someone else's chiki-chiki, that's called community. Community values can only be expressed when we listen to each other. With technology, it's amazing that you can experience music by yourself, but there's a certain isolation within that experience that challenges the idea of community."

"Another thing that I teach is the concept of compromise and discipline. If I ask you to play a piece, you can't cheat; you have to practice. You can't move forward—you can't actually grab the instrument and play music—unless you really commit."

"Once my students understand the power of music, passion creeps in. The passion to survive, to fight for happiness. It's the passion that pulls you in so anything that comes your way—a homework assignment that takes 300 hours—does not matter any more; you do it. A lot of my students have gone on to have great careers. The really successful ones have learned their mission in life; they see their music as a fingerprint of their lives. Once they figure out that life comes first, nothing can stop them."