Danilo, Miguel, Bobby and the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest


The Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest took place in mid-March and I want to highlight three great artists that participated in the event; Danilo Perez, Miguel Zenón, and Bobby Valentín.

Jazz Maestro Danilo Perez

I’m glad that this year’s edition of the Heineken Jazz Fest was dedicated to the great Panamanian pianist, arranger, bandleader, and educator Danilo Perez. Danilo has been a great influence in the development of music in his native Panama as well as in Latin America in general, and also an influence in Jazz in particular.

Danilo Perez from Panama
Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez was honored at Puerto Rico’s Heineken Jazz Fest 2017.

As a musician, Danilo studied jazz composition at Berkley College of Music, and even still as a student there, played with Terence Blanchard, Claudio Roditi, Paquito D’Rivera. After graduating, he continued his rising career collaborating with Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Joe Lovano, Wynton Marsalis, and many others. For the past few years, he has worked intensely with Jazz legend Wayne Shorter in several recordings.

As Founder and Director of the Panama Jazz Festival (see PJF related blog HERE), which began in 2003, he’s hosted many great jazz artists, including Puerto Rican’s David Sanchez, Miguel Zenon, Paoli Mejias, and Danny Rivera among others. Through the Panama Jazz Fest, he’s Granted music scholarships to Berklee, the New England Conservatory, and the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, allowing a new crop of jazz musicians to grow and flourish, taking with them our Latino roots.

For all this and much more, it was great for Puerto Rico to dedicate the Heineken Jazz Festival to this extraordinary Panamanian musician. In the below video, you’ll see some of the highlights of the Heineken Jazz Fest, including its dedicatory to Danilo.

The Creative Mind of Miguel Zenón

Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenón get lot of accolades for his creative way of incorporating his Puerto Rican and Latino experience into Jazz music. I want to point out I don’t consider Miguel’s music Latin Jazz, as he doesn’t use the instrumentation of rhythmical patter of Afro Caribbean music (the one exception is his album “Esta Plena”). But he sure continues to come up with ways to show those Latino influences in his compositions. Not to mention that his album concepts are also very creative (“Jíbaro”, “Esta Plena”, “Alma Adentro”, “Identities are Changeable” – read related blog on the latter HERE), making me wonder if he’s ever going to run out of those great ideas.

Miguel Zenon and his Latin Jazz quartet
Miguel Zenón and his quartet (here with Hans and Henry Cole), was one of the main attractions of the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest.

Zenón’s latest album “Típico” is more of a tribute to his own quartet, which has been with him with his current members for almost 12 years, and if we would count previous drummer Antonio Sanchez, who left to become part of the Pat Metheny Group, and single-handedly did the soundtrack for the movie “Birdman” — read my interview with him HERE), it would be closer to 17 years with Venezuelan pianist Luis Perdomo (who participated in the 2011 edition of this Jazz Fest with his own group – read related blog HERE), and Austrian bassist Hans Glawischnig.

I wonder how many bandleader dedicate an album to their band? The fact that the quartet has been as steady for all these years as it has been speaks loudly about the bandleader skills of Miguel, something for which he doesn’t get a lot of credit.

Unlike some of his previous albums, “Típico” is performed only by his quartet. Stay tuned to a review of it here in Latino Music Café. In the meantime, watch this video where Miguel Zenón explains what is “Polyrhythms”, which form the basis of his composition style.

Bobby Valentín – El Rey del Bajo

Interestingly, the “King of the Bass” as he is known in the Salsa world, learned music with the guitar and then began his music career as a trumpet player. It was as a trumpet player that he gained love for jazz music, and it was also as a trumpet player that he joined Tito Rodriguez’ orchestra for two years before forming his own band.

Bobby Valentin at the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest
Bobby Valentín closed the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest debuting with his new Latin Jazz band.

It was at the Tito Rodriguez orchestra that he gave final shape to his music style, learning from arrangers like Ray Santos and René Hernandez, but also from American arrangers. Since then, Bobby Valentín has been an enthusiast listener of jazz, and as he said in an interview, “those phrases I would hear I would find ways to incorporate them in the “Salsa” tunes I would arrange.”

Through the first half of his career, Bobby would occasionally include Jazz songs in his albums. It’s hard to keep track, but I believe the last one he recorded was the Herbie Hancock standard “Maiden Voyage” in his 1975 “Va a la Carcel” album (read my review of the 40+ year old album HERE).

At the Heineken Jazz Fest, Bobby Valentín played some of the material he will include in his forthcoming Latin Jazz album to be release this summer. In the video below, captured by one of the attendees, you can hear his version of Rafael Hernandez’ “Cumbanchero”.

Bahía Urbana (Old San Juan) – New Home of the Heineken Jazz Fest

This year the Heineken Jazz Fest moved to a new venue; the Bahía Urbana area in Old San Juan. The comments I’ve read have been positive. In the Bobby Valentin video (above), you can see the people in their lawn chairs or in the grass enjoying the festival.

Bahía Urbana in Old San Juan Puerto Rico
Jazz fans enjoying the 2017 Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest at Bahía Urbana in Old San Juan.

Bahía Urbana looks like a bigger venue than the Tito Puente Amphitheater, which hosted the Jazz Fest for many years. The view of the San Juan Bay, and the centric location within Old San Juan certainly are all positives for the new venue. But I have to say that personally I preferred the Tito Puente Amphitheater as the venue, mainly for its amphitheater viewpoint of looking down at the stage.

However, by the comments I read, it seems the positives of Bahía Urbana outweigh the negatives for the Jazz fans in Puerto Rico.

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