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Saxophonist Miguel Zenón mines the Puerto Rican songbook

Publication: Los Angeles Times
Author: Chris Barton
Date: November 18, 2011

If there’s any way jazz can be compared to a fairground’s bumper cars, it’s that the excitement is in the collisions, those necessary (if far less violent) meetings between the music and an individual’s history, imagination and culture that create something new. This year jazz has been enjoying a particularly rewarding run of global collisions that have included the Middle Eastern explorations of trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, the Southern Asian influence in recent albums by Rudresh Mahanthappa and Rez Abbasi and fresh twists on Brazilian jazz in records by Anthony Wilson and Rob Mazurek’s Sao Paolo Underground.

An acclaimed saxophonist who has played with a variety of ensembles through the years as well as ongoing work as co-founder of the SFJAZZ Collective, Miguel Zenón has dedicated much of his career as a bandleader to exploring the intersection of jazz and the music of his native Puerto Rico. In 2009 Zenón earned critical raves and two Grammy nominations for “Esta Plena,” an album exploring a percussive side of Afro-Carribean folkloric tradition. For Zenón’s latest turn at musical cross-pollination, this year’s “Alma Adentro” turns its ear toward the Puerto Rican songwriters from Zenón’s childhood. (Zenón and his quartet perform at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on Saturday.)

I started thinking about the connection between the Great American Songbook and jazz music, how that basically fed the jazz repertoire for so long,” he said, speaking by phone before a performance in Oakland earlier this week. “I started thinking that maybe I could do the same thing and explore the Puerto Rican songbook and bring it into the jazz world, and at the same time introduce people to Puerto Rican composers who’ve meant so much to the development of music and culture there.”

Submitted by Courtney on November 21st, 2011 — 11:18am

Miguel Zenón's unique Latin-jazz fusion

Publication: Sign On San Diego
Author: George Varga
Date: November 15, 2011

A member of the acclaimed SF Jazz Collective and the 2008 recipient of both a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” San Juan-born saxophonist Miguel Zenón is blazing new trails. His rich fusion of jazz and such homegrown Puerto Rican styles as jibaro, plena and bomba is as ingenious as it infectious. Stepped in all of these musical traditions, he is able to dig deeper to make new connections without diluting any of the styles from which he draws. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on November 16th, 2011 — 10:56am

Miguel Zenón: Digging His Roots

Publication: JazzTimes
Author: Lee Mergner

During the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival, JazzTimes set up a make-shift video production studio backstage inside the old barracks of Fort Adams. During two afternoons in August, a succession of artists—including Hiromi, Esperanza Spalding, Ambrose Akinmusire, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Miguel Zenón, Steve Coleman and many others—came in to talk about the festival, jazz education and their own projects. We will be posting these interviews at jazztimes.com over the next few months. You can also see more of these video inteviews at the JazzTimes YouTube channel.

Since receiving a prestigious MacArthur fellowship (also known as the “genius grant”) in 2008, Miguel Zenón has been exploring his own musical roots and influences by delving into the traditional songs and forms of his native Puerto Rico. However, as he explained in this interview at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival, he was already headed in that direction before given the support from the MacArthur grant. At his performance in Newport, Zenón featured the music from his latest album, Alma Adentro (Marsalis Music), featuring a large ensemble with arrangements by Guillermo Klein.

Backstage after the show, Zenón talked about that project and the impact the grant had on his own development as a composer and bandleader. He also discussed his early music education in Puerto Rico, as well as his schooling at Berklee and the Manhattan School.

Visit JazzTimes.com to watch Miguel’s interview. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on November 14th, 2011 — 03:02pm

Miguel Zenón weaves Puerto Rican roots into jazz

Publication: San Francisco Chronicle
Author: Lee Hildebrand
Date: November 13, 2011

Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón hadn’t heard any jazz while growing up in housing projects in San Juan, Puerto Rico, until, at age 15, a friend gave him a Charlie Parker tape. Now 34 and living in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, Zenón is one of the fastest rising names in jazz and this year placed third on his instrument in the DownBeat Critics Poll and eighth in the jazz magazine’s Readers Poll.

Leader of his own quartet and a member of the SFJazz Collective since its inception seven years ago, he also is on a mission to incorporate elements of Puerto Rican folkloric and popular music into jazz and to introduce American jazz to young people in his Caribbean homeland.

The recipient three years ago of a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship from which he receives allotments of $25,000 every three months, Zenón used the proceeds to launch Caravana Cultural. Since February, working in cooperation with the Puerto Rican nonprofit organization Revive la Música, he has performed three free jazz concerts in remote regions of the island using as sidemen top New York players such as trumpeter Avishi Cohen and pianist Gerald Clayton.

Submitted by Courtney on November 14th, 2011 — 11:26am

“What It Means to Be Puerto Rican”: An Interview With Miguel Zenón

Publication: Washington City Paper
Author: Michael J. West
Date: November 9, 2011

No list of today’s major young jazz talents can exclude alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón. Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Zenón embarked on his journey as a jazz musician at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, moved on to the Manhattan School of Music, and took the jazz world by storm. Before long he was receiving not only tremendous acclaim, but tremendous institutional support for his musical explorations of jazz and the various facets of his native Puerto Rican music—including a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship and, that same year, the prestigious MacArthur “Genius Grant.” His newest recording with his quartet, Alma Adentro (Marsalis Music), expands his scope from the folk traditions of Puerto Rico to its canon of popular songs. Ahead of the quartet’s performance tonight at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, Zenón spoke with Arts Desk about his experiences with music in Puerto Rico and the States, and life as a MacArthur fellow.

Washington City Paper: Let’s talk about your explorations of Puerto Rican music. Is this a long-term project?

Miguel Zenón: Yeah, it’s long in the sense that I do it out of personal interest, and it evolved into the traditions of my country and the history and all that. But I have to say that the fact that I did a couple records on that subject wasn’t really planned that way. It’s kinda just been happening as I get more into it and find more things that I want to go deeper into. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on November 10th, 2011 — 10:06am

Miguel Zenón: Jazz player on the rise

Publication: San Jose Mercury News
Author: Andrew Gilbert
Date: November 10, 2011

Miguel Zenón is a musician with a mission.

Over the past six years, the Puerto Rican alto saxophonist has waged a fierce, single-minded campaign to make the jazz world aware of the island’s musical riches. On two previous releases, 2005’s “Jibaro” and 2009’s “Esta Plena,” Zenón combined his rigorous, mathematically structured post-bop vocabulary with folkloric Afro-Puerto Rican styles.

In a shift toward soaring lyricism, his latest album, “Alma Adentro” (Marsalis Music), is a ravishing orchestral session interpreting standards by five beloved Puerto Rican songwriters: Bobby Capó, Tite Curet Alonso, Pedro Flores, Rafael Hernández and Sylvia Rexach. Read more »

WUNC Interviews Branford Marsalis: Marsalis on Mirth and Melancholy

Publication: WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
Date: November 9, 2011

Listen online here.

Submitted by Courtney on November 10th, 2011 — 09:24am

Interview | Atlas PAC performer Miguel Zenón makes his mark on the Latin jazz tradition

Publication: Capital Bop
Author: Giovanni Russonello
Date: November 8, 2011

Puerto Rico native Miguel Zenón, whose quartet plays this Wednesday at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, is a seeker. Enamored with John Coltrane since high school, the alto saxophonist has spent his entire adult life chasing after a wide array of musical impulses – from his early days in Boston’s quirky Either/Orchestra to his mid-2000′s tenure in the SF Jazz Collective, one of the country’s most formidable experimental jazz institutions, to his recent, full-circle return to the songs of his homeland. Through it all, Zenón has maintained a dogged commitment to doing things on his own terms, and has invested greatly in his own recordings, producing six albums of gaping variety over 10 years. What holds them all together is Zenón’s searing alto attack – which he wields like a hot blade administered in deep, irrefutable cuts, rather than bewildering slices at lightning speed – and his fastidious ear toward group dynamics. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on November 9th, 2011 — 09:44am

MIGUEL ZENON Album review: "Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook"

Publication: Washington Post
Author: Mike Joyce
Date: November 4, 2011

Anyone following jazz saxophonist Miguel Zenón’s career knows that two of his albums, “Jibaro” and “Esta Plena,” explored traditional Puerto Rican rhythms. His new release, “Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook,” shifts the focus from original compositions inspired by indigenous beats to popular tunes by five Puerto Rican masters: Rafael Hernandez, Pedro Flores, Sylvia Rexach, Bobby Capo and Tite Curet Alonso. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on November 7th, 2011 — 10:03am

Miguel Zenón - Alma Adentro

Publication: JazzTimes
Author: Michael J. West
Date: November 2011 issue

Alma Adentro is alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón’s most ambitious exploration yet of Puerto Rico’s music. It is also his best. The disc surveys the Puerto Rican Songbook, but Zenón assumes command of each tune with ease. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on November 7th, 2011 — 10:56am