Secrets are the Best Stories: Kurt Elling/Danilo Perez Duo
Renowned for his singular combination of robust swing and poetic insight, GRAMMY winner Kurt Elling has secured his place among the world’s foremost jazz vocalists. Declared “the standout male vocalist of our time” by The New York Times, Elling has garnered unprecedented accolades, including a fourteen-year run atop the DownBeat Critics Poll, a dozen GRAMMY nominations, and eight Jazz Journalists Association awards for “Male Singer of the Year.”
Elling’s voice is instantly recognizable, embracing listeners with his warm, rich baritone and navigating the full span of his four-octave range as a virtuoso instrumentalist and a compelling storyteller. Whether transforming timeless standards or crafting his own enthralling originals, Elling balances elegant lyricism and technical mastery with wry humor, emotional depth, and keen observations into the human condition.
“Elling combines authenticity with stunning originality,” is how The Wall Street Journal describes his talents, while The Guardian has called him “a kind of Sinatra with superpowers.” The Toronto Star has gone so far as to say that “Kurt Elling is the closest jazz will ever get to having its own saint,” while The Guardian makes up one voice in a chorus calling him “one of jazz’s all-time great vocalists.”
Elling’s most recent release, The Questions, vividly exemplifies his ability to respond to the world around him with both urgent immediacy and a unique perspective. Co-produced by NEA Jazz Master and acclaimed saxophonist Branford Marsalis, the album searches for answers to the culture’s most divisive social, political and spiritual issues in the songs of Bob Dylan, Carla Bley and Leonard Bernstein, and the poetry of Rumi and Wallace Stevens. Elling had previously joined Marsalis and his long-running Quartet for 2016’s GRAMMY-nominated Upward Spiral, which All About Jazz hailed as “suffused with graciousness, beauty, and, on occasion, heartbreak.”
Taking the long view of Elling’s audacious and richly varied career, the Washington Post lauded, “Since the mid-1990s, no singer in jazz has been as daring, dynamic or interesting as Kurt Elling. With his soaring vocal flights, his edgy lyrics and sense of being on a musical mission, he has come to embody the creative spirit in jazz.”
As a solo artist and as a collaborator with jazz giants from Dizzy Gillespie to Wayne Shorter, for over three decades Grammy® Award-Winning Panamanian Pianist-Composer Danilo Pérez has been lauded as one of the most creative forces in contemporary music. With Jazz as the anchoring foundation, Pérez’s Global Jazz music is a blend of Panamanian roots, Latin American folk music, West African rhythms, European impressionism – promoting music as a borderless and multidimensional bridge between all people.
Born in Panama in 1965, Pérez started his musical studies when he was three years old with his father, a bandleader, and singer. By age 10, he was studying the European classical piano repertoire at the National Conservatory in Panama. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in electronics in Panama, he studied jazz composition at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. While still a student, he performed with Jon Hendricks, Terence Blanchard, Slide Hampton, Claudio Roditi and Paquito D’Rivera. Quickly established as a young master, he soon toured and/or recorded with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie United Nations Orchestra from 1989-1992, Jack DeJohnette, Steve Lacy, Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden, Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Tito Puente, Wynton Marsalis, Tom Harrell, Gary Burton, and Roy Haynes.
In 1993, Pérez turned his focus to his own ensembles and recording projects, releasing several albums as a leader, earning Grammy® and Latin Grammy® nominations for Central Avenue (1998), Motherland (2000), Across The Crystal Sea (2008), and Providencia (2010). In 1996, he was signed by producer Tommy Lipuma to join the Impulse label and recorded Panamonk, a tribute to Thelonious Monk which according to DownBeat magazine is one of the most important piano albums in the history of jazz. Pérez’s album Central Avenue, featured mejoranera music (a style of Panamanian folklore singing) and was chosen as one of the 10 best recordings across genres by TIME Magazine in 1998. A collaboration between Pérez and the prolific composer and arranger Claus Ogerman, 2008’s Across The Crystal Sea was praised by The Guardian as, “So ultra-smooth it achieves something like a state of grace.” Ogerman said, “This is a record I wanted to make before I leave the planet.” Pérez made his Mack Avenue Records debut in 2010 with the release of Providencia. The album was nominated for a 2011 Grammy® Award in the category of Best Instrumental Jazz Album.
Pérez joined the Wayne Shorter Quartet in 2010 with John Patitucci and Brian Blade. This latest iteration from Shorter has been known as a unique and predominant force in improvisational music both at their historic live performances and on several recordings. In 2018 Blue Note Records released the highly anticipated EMANON from the Wayne Shorter Quartet which won a Grammy® in the category of Best Jazz Instrumental Album in 2019.
For several years Pérez has also been touring with his trio – featuring Ben Street and Adam Cruz – and with Children of the Light, a collaboration with fellow Wayne Shorter Quartet members John Patitucci and Brian Blade. Mack Avenue released the Children of the Light album in 2015 to great critical acclaim. Pérez’s current touring project, the Global Messengers, spreads the idea that music can serve as a natural remedy to unfortunate situations, providing an uplifting message, connection, and common ground. The ensemble features musicians from diverse cultural backgrounds, coming together to build community through music.
As a composer, Pérez has been commissioned by The Lincoln Center, Chicago Jazz Festival, and Imani Winds Quintet, among others. His octet for members of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela was commissioned by Carnegie Hall. In 2014, the Banff Centre commissioned Pérez to write a piano quintet for the Cecilia String Quartet titled "Camino de Cruces" and he also composed the music for the Museum of Biodiversity in Panama, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. In 2015, Pérez premiered another two new compositions: “Expeditions – Panamania 2015” was premiered at the Panamerican Games in Toronto and his “Detroit World Suite – La Leyenda de Bayano” was premiered at the Detroit Jazz Festival. Pérez returns to the Detroit Jazz Festival in Fall 2019 for the world premiere of a new piece written for his Global Messengers ensemble and co-commissioned by the Detroit Jazz Festival, London Jazz Festival, National Forum of Music Wroclaw, and Koerner Hall at Royal Academy of Music Toronto.
Pérez, who served as Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF, has received a variety of awards for his musical achievements, activism and social work efforts. He is a recipient of the United States Fellowship 2018, and the 2009 Smithsonian Legacy Award. He currently serves as UNESCO Artist for Peace, Cultural Ambassador to the Republic of Panama, Founder and Artistic Director of the Panama Jazz Festival, and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute in Boston’s Berklee College of Music.