By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
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His first touchdown in Miami was a couple of years ago, when playing with the revered Latin jazz band, Irakere. But did Irakere need a pianist? What about talented band founder Chucho Valdés?
"Chucho told me in a meeting that he was busy working with his quartet, and he would like me to be part of Irakere. I accepted with pleasure," recalls Perez. That's how Perez became part of one of the most famous Latin jazz outfits, or, as Perez himself puts it, "a musical institution well-known worldwide."
If it were just jazz that moves every key on Perez's piano, we would only be talking about 50 percent of this artist. In addition to Irakere, Perez's résumé includes performances with Cuban salsa singer Issac Delgado and recording sessions with Los Van Van's lead singer, Mayito Rivera. The strong Cuban strains in each tumbao -- every hard-core Latin run -- that Perez throws down captivated businessman-lawyer Jerry Masucci, cofounder of the legendary Fania All-Stars. In 1996 Perez was part of a project directed by this Jewish tropical-music entrepreneur who hoped to give birth to a new Fania generation. Despite the fact that musical history refers to Fania and salsa as an "original" product of the streets of New York City in the Seventies, Masucci flew to Cuba in the Nineties to plant the seed of this new experiment and recruited many Cuban musicians, including Perez. For a year the Cuban pianist flew to Venezuela and Colombia (among other hard-salsa-loving countries), devising weighty arrangements flavored with a lot of Cubanismo. "Fania set the identity for a lot of my music, including this CD," Perez points out. "There are influences of that rhythmic style and hot salsa flavor in ďPicadillo,' for instance."
The point of equilibrium for Tony Perez is somewhere in between the sabrosura (richness) of Cuban dance music and the jazz of Dixieland. However mixed the inspiration for his music, the pianist is clear that the most important goal is to leave a legacy for listeners everywhere. "I am a Cuban man, a Cuban musician, and a Cuban artist," he concedes, "but I am also a universal artist. I make my music for the universe."