Celebrating the legacy of four musical giants, Jazz 100 launches in Philadelphia

Jazz greats (from left) Thelonious Monk

Jazz greats (from left) Thelonious Monk

Next year would have been the 100th birthday of four giants of jazz. Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonius Monk, and Mongo Santamaria were all born in 1917.

To mark the anniversary, Jazz100, a national touring concert, will feature new arrangements of signature songs by all four. On Friday night the tour launches at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.

All these musicians had their own style. That’s what made Dizzy, Ella, Monk, and Mongo so great — they commandeered jazz with their own unique sound. For Jazz100, an all-star band will try to represent them all in one concert.

It’s directed by Danilo Perez, a pianist and composer from Panama, now based in Boston. When Perez was just 21, Dizzy Gillespie asked him to join his band. This was in 1989, when Gillespie was an international music star, touring dozens of countries a year. (He died four years later.)

Perez said Gillespie taught him to use music as a form of global diplomacy.

“He created a platform for cultural exchange through music,” said Perez. “Many people were bringing samba, a little merengue, salsa, jazz, Cubop. He understood the value of that, for everyone to come in and join.”

Perez, like Gillespie, wants to use jazz to cross cultures. The challenge, he said, is to bring together four singular musical approaches into a cohesive concert.

“It’s very challenging, but they all come from the same spirit of creativity,” said Perez. “I brought a collective attitude. I asked the players in the group to contribute arrangements and ideas.”

After launching the show in Philadelphia, Perez will take the band on a six-city national tour, then to Europe in the spring.

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