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Two members of the Berklee College of Music faculty are among the seven performers named Thursday as this year’s Doris Duke Artists. Pianists Kris Davis and Danilo Perez have each been awarded $275,000 “to invest in their own futures.”

Each year the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation — established in 1996 according to the wishes of the late philanthropist — awards artists from the fields of contemporary dance, theater, and jazz. It’s a prestigious honor and a considerable windfall for the artists, who often work outside the commercial mainstream.

“This comes at a time in our history when a lot of musicians and artists are really struggling,” says Davis, who recently moved to Boston after being hired as a creative director for the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice. Her experimental 2019 album “Diatom Ribbons,” which featured appearances by Esperanza Spalding, Nels Cline, and Terri Lyne Carrington, was named the best jazz album of the year by both NPR and The New York Times.

“I felt like my career was taking off,” she says. Then the pandemic hit, “and it all kind of crumbled.”


Kris Davis, an acclaimed jazz pianist, is the creative director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.
Kris Davis, an acclaimed jazz pianist, is the creative director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice.Caroline Mardok

Davis, who has appeared on dozens of recordings since her arrival less than 20 years ago, recently joined Carrington (who founded the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice in 2019) in a new group. At Berklee’s Red Room at Cafe 939 on Dec. 8, they will perform songs from a forthcoming Berklee book showcasing women composers.

Perez, the Panamanian pianist who has won multiple Grammys and a Smithsonian Legacy Award, says the news of the Doris Duke Artist honor brought him to tears.

“The recognition and the prestige, to be recognized by your community, feels incredible,” he says. (This year’s honorees also include the saxophone great Wayne Shorter.) “But the financial support, the care for my well-being, is very touching.


“To me, it’s a reminder that it’s a call of duty to continue producing, keep taking risks, keep exploring artistic freedom,” he says. “It’s going to help me look at my long-term vision. I’m going to be able to see the whole picture — to continue the mission I embarked on many years ago, to use music for the betterment of humanity.”

Perez first visited Boston with his parents as a 6-year-old.

“When we came into Logan Airport, I told my mother, this is the place I’m going to live,” he says. “I love being here. I believe in the energy and the synergy we have here.”

After studying at Berklee in the early 1980s, Perez soon returned to Boston. He lives in Quincy.

In 2009 Perez founded Berklee’s Global Jazz Institute. It’s “a space for intercultural dialogue” through music, he says. He recently formed a new group, the Global Messengers, with alumni from the program who came to Boston from Palestine, Iraq, and Greece. Their debut album will come out in the new year.

According to the faculty members, enrollment has surged at Berklee this semester. It’s no coincidence, Perez says.

“The pandemic put us in touch with the health benefits of music,” he says, “and the power to humanize us.”

Email James Sullivan at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.