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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 — 12:26pm

“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 — 11:06am

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 — 10:24am

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 — 10:44am

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 — 11:03am

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 — 11:56am

Jazz Setlist, November 3-9: From Flute to Banjo

Publication: Washington City Paper
Author: Michael J. West
Date: November 3, 2011

Wednesday, November 9
A MacArthur Genius Grant winner, Miguel Zenón filters jazz through all aspects of the music of his native Puerto Rico: folk songs (“plena”), art songs, pop songs, and good old-fashioned dance music. His music, executed on his peppery, slithery alto saxophone, is beautifully designed and played, and gives off a surprisingly raw energy that can take even Zenón by surprise. Credit for that should go as well to the stunning quartet he leads: pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole, each one of the strongest and most in-demand instrumentalists in New York. With Zenón, however, they’re something else again, and some of the hottest new jazz around. They perform at 8 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE. $40. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on November 4th, 2011 — 01:54pm

Miguel Zenón: Alma Adentro

Date: October 16, 2011
Publication: ABC’s The Weekend Planet

A highly creative but deeply respectful Miguel Zenón instrumentally explores songs that have had “a special and lasting effect on me”. He hails their authors as “the George Gershwins, Cole Porters and Jerome Kerns of Puerto Rican song.”

In 2011 Miguel Zenón is 34, lives in New York and is one of jazz’s most highly regarded alto saxophonists. When the Puerto Rican virtuoso first heard his new album’s songs he was a boy in a housing project in San Juan. 

On Alma Adentro (it means Deep in the Soul) Zenón interprets two pieces each, from five composers: Bobby Capó, Tite Curet Alonso, Pedro Flores, Rafael Hernández, and Sylvia Rexach. With each composer, Zenón arranges one song in “a more conservative way, staying closer to the original” and the other “with a more modern approach, taking more chances.” Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on November 3rd, 2011 — 03:31pm

Music from on high: How Branford Marsalis composed the moving sounds of Broadway's 'The Mountaintop'

Publication: New York Daily News
By: Greg Thomas
Date: Saturday, October 22, 2011

“The Mountaintop,” in a 16-week Broadway run at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, has gotten attention for the star power of the lead actors — Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett — and for the portrayal of a more human, less iconic side of Martin Luther King Jr.’s personality.

According to the play’s composer, the saxophonist, bandleader and record label founder Branford Marsalis, that’s the way it should be.

“Here’s a good metaphor,” he proposes. “We had a talk with some students from the Brooklyn High School for the Arts after one of the previews. And Samuel Jackson came onstage, Angela Bassett came on, and the playwright Katori Hall came on. The kids didn’t ask me anything. That’s the apt metaphor because the music serves the purpose of accentuation or complement.

“Weak music can’t really kill a play. Weak acting can destroy a play, regardless of how good the music is,” Marsalis says.

“For instance, take Prokofiev’s score to the ballet based on Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ It’s a fantastic piece of music, and a great ballet. If you put the ballet out there and they’re tripping all over themselves and dancing like crap, nobody’s going to say, ‘That ballet really sucked, but the music was really good.’ They’re going to say, ‘That ballet sucked — period.’ “

In his first Broadway role, Jackson acts the part of Dr. King after he gave the famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. Jackson was a student at Morehouse College, King’s alma mater, at the time. He served as an usher at King’s funeral and flew to Memphis right after to march with the black sanitation workers on whose behalf King was fighting for a livable wage.

Bassett is a mysterious chambermaid named Camae. She gives a powerful soliloquy at the close of the play that Marsalis uses to give a momentary feel of a musical, in which the music and narration occur simultaneously. The show conjures video images of a future King never would see.

Marsalis based the ensemble music — bass, drums and saxophone — on Bassett’s cadence.

“The music starts off slow and picks up speed, and gets quicker and quicker, and her cadence gets faster and faster, and the images come faster and faster,” he says. “It’s a good effect.”

Cadence, which in Western music refers to characteristic rhythmic patterns, is an important concept that Marsalis uses to explain the difference between Hall’s approach as a playwright and August Wilson’s. The late Wilson is notable for his cycle of plays that dramatize black American life in the 20th century.
Read more »

Submitted by Ben on October 24th, 2011 — 10:54am