By Fernando Gonzalez
The just launched Global Jazz Institute, announced at a gala at the 7th Panama Jazz Festival, is not your standard program – not even for a forward looking institution like Berklee College of Music.
“The vision is comprised of three elements,” explains pianist and educator Danilo Pérez, Artistic Director of the program. “ The student has to commit himself or herself to promote social change through music; the work is interdisciplinary (we are including dancers, painters and others to add dimensions to the work that are not commonly associated with jazz); and it has an ecological component. I have been nurtured by spending time in the jungle [in Panama] with Patti [saxophonist Patricia Zárate, his wife] and the girls [daughters Daniela and Carolina]. We found out that those visits helped us to maintain a balance, that we connected to a very powerful creative world.”
“Also, we did a study on the connections between ecology and culture,” continues Pérez. “And, for example, we found out that with all the changes that had been happening [to the Panamanian jungle] there is only one flutist left [among the indigenous population] who remembers and knows the old rituals – and you have to travel seven, eight hours to find him. So it made it very clear to us that restoring the ecological balance was to also protect the culture.”
The vision and approach in the program, explains Perez, is “basically, expanding the work we were doing in Panama, but under the umbrella of the school. And I loved it.”
As set up now, the program, which officially starts this Fall semester, can vary from two years to four. As Mitzi Dorbu, a spokesperson for Berklee further explained, “students may pursue a performance degree, diploma, or two-year certificate through the institute.” Some of the courses in the curriculum include Survey on Improvisation Styles, Global Jazz Ensembles, and Creative Improvisation Through Interdisciplinary Collaboration.
There are 14 students enrolled in the program. And while any student can apply, the selections are based upon a live audition and an interview. “While the institute is looking to attract advanced players that are musically gifted, selection for the BGJI will not be solely based on musical proficiency,” explained Dorbu. In practical terms that translates to the fact that in addition to demonstrating creativity and instrumental proficiency, the students should have a social awareness and be open to other disciplines. Applicants to the program are encouraged to submit personal work in other artistic disciplines, along with original music.
“We’re looking to foster multifaceted, creative students who will be also open to artistic interests other than music,” explained saxophonist Marco Pignataro, Managing Director of the program. “We’re looking to develop the whole artist, not just the musician.”