A Man, A Plan, A Concept Album About Panama

On the new album Panama 500, pianist Danilo Pérez considers five centuries of his home country's history. i i

On the new album Panama 500, pianist Danilo Pérez considers five centuries of his home country's history. Raj Naik and Luke Severn/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Raj Naik and Luke Severn/Courtesy of the artist
On the new album Panama 500, pianist Danilo Pérez considers five centuries of his home country's history.

On the new album Panama 500, pianist Danilo Pérez considers five centuries of his home country's history.

Raj Naik and Luke Severn/Courtesy of the artist

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.

Pérez has just released an ambitious new album called Panama 500. His inspiration? Just 500 years of history, that's all.

From beginning to end, the album tracks the journey of Panama, starting with the Spanish "discovery" of the Pacific Ocean in 1513 — "an event," Pérez tells NPR's Arun Rath, "that basically changed the dynamic of the world, how the world connected. You know, Panama became a bridge."

A small country that connected massive parts of the globe — the American continents and the world's largest oceans — was now a gateway, and lots of different goods, cultures, ideas would come together at this bottleneck in the years to come.

Pérez says he wanted the music to evoke those connections, "with the violin representing the European influence, for example; the percussion representing the African influence, combined with jazz, with the traditional rhythm section."

Hear more of his conversation with Rath at the audio link on this page.

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