Hola! My name is Liz Lupton. I’m a publicist in Berklee’s Office of Media Relations, and I’ve followed students from our Berklee Global Jazz Institute (BGJI) and our admissions reps to the Panama Jazz Festival in Panama City.

After leaving the house bright and early at 3:30 a.m. (!), I arrived sleepy but full of anticipation on Monday afternoon. The past few days have been a whirlwind to say the least! The first festival activity I went to on Monday evening was an opening reception at the Panama Canal where I caught up with the BGJI for the first time since landing! (Get ready for lots of exclamation points, because everything I encounter is more exciting than the last!) The students have such a positive energy around them, and they all expressed their gratitude for being such a huge part in the festival. Not only are they performing, they are also conducting clinics for students from the Fundación Danilo Perez, the organization Danilo started in his home country of Panama where local students can learn music and also get help with their studies and more. Since Danilo is also the artistic director of the BGJI, it’s interesting to see students from these two groups interact.

Well, back to the reception. The party took place at the Miraflores locks, a midpoint in the waterway, and the canal was abuzz despite the fact that it was well after dark. Between the excellent music at the reception, the enormous barges passing each other in the canal, and the water rushing in and out of the locks, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that nearly bordered on sensory overload. (I never realized how much boat traffic there is in the canal! I hope my photos do it justice.)

Tuesday proved to be another busy day. We headed to the Ciudad del Saber – a former military base that now serves as an innovative center for cultural and educational activities near the canal – for the festival’s daytime activities. Between the concerts, clinics, rehearsals, and master classes, Danilo interviewed Herbie Hancock, a festival headliner, on stage in front of a huge crowd. Danilo and Herbie talked about musicianship as being more than an excellent player who can bow their violin really fast or play octaves with one hand on the piano; they talked about musicianship as something that one shares as a member of the “human family.” Herbie went on to explain that music is something he does to make himself happy and to make others happy. It seems like Herbie and Danilo are really on the same page; Danilo created the BGJI for students who seek to evolve to the highest levels as both musicians and as humans, and he always looks for creative ways for students to grow. By taking students to perform an interpretation of an inmate’s poem at Bridgewater Correctional Facility, for example, or by bringing students to a nursing home whose residents don’t have many family members or friends, Danilo instills a sense of “something bigger” within the students.

As soon as Herbie and Danilo’s interview was over, Danilo and the BGJI headed to another building for a press conference on the institute. We set the room up in a circle so journalists and the students could get into a conversation about their studies within the institute. Although a circle-shaped press conference is a bit unorthodox, it was more conducive to a meaningful conversation. The students were asked about how they discovered that jazz was what they wanted to do, what they would tell young students who expressed interest in jazz, and how their experiences as BGJI students have shaped them as musicians and as people.

Throughout the day, the local media started to show up to the festival. I did a quick interview with the Asemblea Nacional TV (the national station). As I wasn’t even in Panama for 24 hours at this point, my Spanish was still trickling back into my head. Luckily, I could do the interview in English!

Tuesday was a slower night in terms of performances – I took advantage of the much-needed slower pace of the evening! After a nice dinner with my new friend, Shannon Effinger, a writer from New York on assignment for DownBeat, I hit the sack.

More later…until then, hasta luego!