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Born in Panama in 1965, Pérez, at age three, started his musical studies with his father, a bandleader and singer. By age ten, he was studying the European classical piano repertoire at Panama’s National Conservatory of Music. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in electronics in Panama, he moved to the United States and studied jazz composition at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. 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, Pérez soon toured and/or recorded with artists such as the Dizzy Gillespie United Nations Orchestra (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 2000, Pérez joined Wayne Shorter to form Shorter’s great quartet with John Patitucci and Brian Blade. Since 2003, he has been touring with a regular trio featuring Ben Street and Adam Cruz.
In 1993, Pérez turned his focus to his own ensembles and recording projects, releasing eight albums as a leader, earning Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations for Central Avenue (1989), Motherland (2000), and Across the Crystal Sea (2008). In 1996, he was signed by producer Tommy Lipuma to join the Impulse Records label and recorded PanaMonk, a tribute to Thelonious Monk, which, according to DownBeat magazine, is one of the most important jazz piano albums in history. Additionally, Pérez released Providencia, his debut for Mack Avenue Records, in August 2010. The album was also nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Instrumental Jazz Album. As a composer, he has been commissioned by the Lincoln Center in New York City, the Chicago Jazz Festival, and the Imani Winds Quintet, among others. Last year, New York’s Carnegie Hall commissioned him to write an octet for members of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. In May 2014, he was commissioned by the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, 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.
Pérez, who has served as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, has received a variety of awards for his musical achievements, activism, and social work efforts. 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 artistic director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute at his alma mater, the Berklee College of Music. His latest album, Children of the Light, a collaboration with fellow Wayne Shorter Quartet members Patitucci and Blade, was released on Mack Avenue Records in September 2015.
In 2015, Pérez premiered two brand-new commissions. In July that year, he premiered Expeditions- Panamania 2015 at the Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada. At the Detroit Jazz Festival in September 2015, he premiered his Detroit World Suite: La Leyenda de Bayano.
There are still amazing musicians like Danilo Pérez, who plays piano with Wayne Shorter’s quartet. He is not afraid of anything.
There is nothing small about Danilo Pérez’s ambitions. The pianist wants nothing less than to create a Panamanian style of jazz composition.
Danilo Pérez is a man with some serious jazz cred. The Panamanian pianist got his start playing with Dizzy Gillespie, and continued with Wayne Shorter. As a composer and bandleader himself, he’s practically peerless.