Panama Jazz Festival Celebrates 10th Anniversary

This year is the 10th Anniversary of the Panama Jazz Festival (PJF). In those 10 years, the PJF has grown into one of the premier Jazz events showcases in Latin America. It brings some of the most prominent names in Jazz from Latin America and the entire World.

But the Panama Jazz Fest is more than a collection of jazz concerts. It also includes music clinics, seminars, and auditions for music scholarships, with the purpose of using music to help improve the lives of the citizens of Panama.

For this 10th anniversary I contacted Mr. Jaime Fields who is the International Press Coordinator for the PJF, and asked him a few questions. This Q&A will give you a glimpse of how this festival was originated and supported, how it has grown through the years, and the different way in which it supports the community and Panama’s youth.

Interview with Jaime Fields of the PJF

1. LMC: How is the Panama Jazz Festival born? Who organizes it? How is support for the festival obtained?

JF (PJF): The Panama Jazz Festival is born from the initiative and love for the art of Panamanian musician Danilo Perez. After having done musical workshops and “jamborees” with various national artists, Danilo decides to put in practice his idea to use music to bring culture, discipline, and change in society for the benefit of young Panamanians. Since it’s a fact that music requires discipline and requires dedication; Danilo sees the opportunity to reach the youth of the economic marginalized neighborhoods of the capital and other provinces in order to help them not fall into crime and drugs.

Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Perez was the creator and is the Artistic Director of the Panama Jazz Festival.

2. LMC: Danilo Perez has been the artistic Director of the PJF, and Ruben Blades (who performs in this year’s event) was Tourism Minister during the early years of the PJF. Please expand on the roles Danilo and Ruben have had on the PJF.

JF (PJF): Danilo Pérez was the creator of the PJF with the help of people close to him who believed in the project. He’s had a huge influence in the PJF as its creator and its artistic director.

JF (PJF): Mr. Blades supported the project as Tourism Minister and musician, especially since for many years both musicians have enjoyed a cordial friendly and professional relationship.

3. LMC: What have been the biggest challenges the Panama Jazz Fest has had in these 10 years?

JF (PJF): Every project has its challenges. Perhaps ours has been to have an organizing group that can work cohesively and as a team, which I believe we have done in the last few years. As human beings we learn to rehearse time and again until we perfect what we need to perfect, and this has been the case here. I want to emphasize that our organizing team has always been integrated by professionals, and because of that, the festival has reached the level it has today.

4. LMC: How has the PJF developed through the years? What is the mayor difference between the first 2 years and the last 2 years?

JF (PJF):The enthusiasm that the Panama Jazz Festival has created in the country has been impressive. This event has become equivalent to “culture” in our country, and our citizens wait for it anxiously each year.

JF (PJF):We started doing the event on Saturdays, as a free open air concert in the Old City of Panama. But the Plaza at the Cathedral became too small for the ever bigger crowds, so we moved the event to the “Ciudad del Saber” where we have much more space.

Panama Jazz Fest event at the "Casco Viejo" of Panama City (in front of the Cathedral).

JF (PJF):In the first 2 years I believe the Project needed to prove itself because we couldn’t sense its success. Now in 2013 the event has solidified in such a way that people are anxious waiting for the performances of Susana Baca, Bill Frisell, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter. This really is an formidable roster of artists for any event of this type, and the Panamanian people is responsible for the great success we have today.

5. LMC: How does the Panama Jazz Festival involve the community?

JF (PJF): The Panama Jazz Fest involves the community through the Danilo Perez Foundation, and its daily activities, like music clinics for children and youngsters, educational programs to help children that live in economically marginalized communities and are at risk of being absorbed by the hard environment in which they live. By offering youth programs, we offer a place where children learn music and associated basic things like discipline and respect for others and themselves, which will help them in each phase of their lives.

JF (PJF): Also, we encourage youth to audition during the week of the Panama Jazz Festival for the opportunity to win a musical instrument and a music scholarship for institutions like Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory, and the Puerto Rico Conservatory.

6. LMC: How do you see the evolution of the Panama Jazz Festival? How do you see it evolve in the next 5 to 10 years?

Ruben Blades (here performing with Danilo Perez) has supported the Panama Jazz Fest as Tourism Minister and as an artist. He performs this year.

JF (PJF): We expect the PJF to continue growing and educating youth, and that this brings a significant change to our youth so they become productive citizens of our society, which needs them. We hope to continue educating musicians in the best institutions of the world, and that this brings more desire to support art and culture of which we’ve been talking about for a long time.

JF (PJF): Currently we haven’t thought of making any changes, as the format we have for the PJF is excellent. Perhaps with time we come to a point in which we can’t keep up and then we might make changes to the activities and direction of the festival.

7. LMC: What are your expectations for this year’s edition of the Panama Jazz Festival?

JF (PJF): Our expectation for this year’s Panama Jazz Fest is wonderful since we have great jazz performers (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Bill Frisell). We expect a solid success that will continue to move forward the lives of our youth in a positive and productive way.

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