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Portland Jazz Festival: A Celebration of ECM

Danilo Perez is on a mission, backed emphatically by Panama’s Minister of Tourism, master sonero Ruben Blades, during an intimate press breakfast. According to Perez, the Panama Jazz Festival is “a gathering that goes beyond music and speaks to the heart. The most powerful result we have seen is from the children. This is the reason we do this.” Indeed the impact of this festival-produced by the Danilo Perez Foundation-on the children of Panama is felt almost immediately.

Dedicated to the late Panamanian jazz singer Barbara Wilson, the opening night festival curtain was appropriately raised at the exquisite opera house Teatro Nacional by a short set from trumpeter Reggie Boyce, one of Ms. Wilson’s longtime compadres. The program also included the persuasive vocal improvisations of Reto de Trovadores, and a jam session involving visiting musician-educators from the New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music. For the ebullient director the crowning moment came when he trotted out three exceptionally talented youngsters. Like a proud papa, Perez introduced nine-year-old Milagros Blades on a small djembe drum, teenage tenor saxophonist Jahaziel Arrocha and pre-teen pianist Tony Madruga for short solo turns and an audience-rousing trio groove on “St. Thomas”; boss Perez joined Madruga for some four-hand piano. All three kids are from modest backgrounds and at breakfast with Blades, Danilo worried over whether Arrocha, a ubiquitous presence on the festival’s nightly club jams, was eating anything other than his ever-present tenor. They are but three shining examples of Perez’s mission bearing succulent fruit across this lovely country.

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