miguel zenon

Review: Rapturous Miguel Zenón performance at SFJazz

Publication: Mercury News
Author: Richard Scheinin
Date: June 1, 2013

When he is on his game — and he often is — alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón combines qualities of sheer romance, sanctified spirit and mathematical precision. In all of jazz, not too many players operate at his level. When his improvised solos really get moving, he rocks back on his heels and the notes just fly, like blizzards of diamonds. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on July 3rd, 2013 — 02:14pm

Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook Receives Latin Grammy Nomination

On September 25, 2012, the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (LARAS) announced nominations for the XIII Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards. Congrats to Miguel Zenón for his nomination! Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook, Miguel’s collection of reinterpreted Puerto Rican standards, was nominated for Best Instrumental Album. Alma Adentro was also nominated during the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. The XIII Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards will be held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas and will be broadcast live on the Univision Network on Thursday, Nov. 15.

Submitted by Courtney on September 27th, 2012 — 04:02pm

He’s jazzed by sound of Puerto Rico

Publication: The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Kevin Joy
Date: April 18, 2012

New York musician Miguel Zenón has filtered the music of his Puerto Rican homeland through a jazz lens.

For his latest album, Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook, the 35-year-old alto saxophonist began with familiar music composed in the 1920s to the 1970s — cuts not quite anthemic but much ingrained in his native land.

“They’re a part of the culture in Puerto Rico,” said Zenón, who has a bachelor’s degree from Berklee College of Music in Boston and a master’s from Manhattan School of Music in New York.

Though long enamored of jazz, he found that highlighting his roots held even more allure.

“As much as I like . . . (American standards), I didn’t feel as personally connected.”

Such a fusion has paid off for Zenón, whose Alma Adentro was deemed the best jazz album of 2011 by National Public Radio.

It came on the heels of a 2008 MacArthur Fellowship — the “genius grant” that provides $500,000 apiece to cutting-edge individuals in science and the arts.

Such credit “does make people notice you a little more,” he said.

More exposure will occur on Thursday, when Zenón performs with a quartet at the Wexner Center for the Arts as part of the 35th annual Ohio State University Jazz Festival.

He talked this week from New Orleans.

Q: With no prior warning about being given the MacArthur grant, how did you react to the initial phone call?

A: It was a surprise for me — very pleasant. In terms of what that’s done for me and my life and everything, aside from the obvious financial connotation, it definitely opened a lot of doors and brought a little more attention to what we’re doing.

It’s given me a lot of freedom with my time — to play with the people I want to play with, financing my own recordings and projects.

Q: How did you select and interpret fare for your latest album?

A: The approach in general was just to think about these songs the same way you’d think about the great American songbook and how that’s become an essential part of the jazz lexicon.

A lot of the . . . ( Adentro selections) were written at the same time, when all this Tin Pan Alley stuff was happening. I felt I had a personal connection with these songs I’ve been hearing since I was a kid — through my parents or just on the radio or playing in school.

Q: Did any one song have a particularly strong pull?

A: Definitely the title track. The composer, Sylvia Rexach — she’s a favorite of my mother.
My mom, I remember, . . . was always singing her songs in the house. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on April 19th, 2012 — 10:44am

Saxophonist Miguel Zenón in peak form

Publication: Chicago Tribune
Author: Howard Reich
Date: April 13, 2012

The ingeniously paced, handsomely played set that alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón offered Thursday night at the Jazz Showcase very nearly summed up the man’s appeal in small-group settings.

For if Zenón had affirmed has ability to hold his own in an orchestral setting last February, when he fronted the Chicago Jazz Ensemble at the Harris Theater, this time he led his quartet in expansive performances of both new and familiar repertoire. Virtually every piece in his first set emerged a model of pacing and architectural clarity, themes appearing and re-appearing at carefully chosen moments, instruments entering and exiting the ensemble texture for maximum dramatic effect. Yet, somehow, the music sounded free and spontaneous while conveying unmistakable structure and form.

Not surprisingly, the heart of the set was built on scores from Zenón’s most recent recording, “Alma Adentro,” in which Zenón re-imagined classic popular songs of his Puerto Rican heritage through the prism of jazz improvisation. As strong as this music sounded on disc, however, in some ways it proved still more effective in this performance, thanks largely to the bloom of Zenón’s tone in full-throated passages and the delicacy of his sound elsewhere. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on April 17th, 2012 — 10:08am

Miguel Zenón Quartet at the Jazz Showcase, April 12-15

Publication: JazzPolice.com
Author: Ronaldo Oregano
Date: April 8, 2012

Multiple Grammy Nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón represents a select group of musicians who have masterfully balanced and blended the often-contradictory poles of innovation and tradition. Widely considered as one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation, he has also developed a unique voice as a composer and as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between Latin American Folkloric Music and Jazz.   Zenón received a fellowship from the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Foundation April 2008 to work on the project that would later become his 2009 release Esta Plena. Later that year he was one of 25 distinguished individuals chosen to receive the coveted MacArthur Grant, also know as the “Genius Grant”. Hear his genius at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago on Thursday, April 12th through Sunday, April 15th. His quartet also features Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, and Henry Cole on drums.

Miguel Zenón was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There, he studied classical saxophone at the famed Escuela Libre de Musica. Although Zenón was exposed to jazz while in high school, it wasn’t until he began his studies at the Berklee School of Music that his formal jazz training began. After graduating from Berklee, Zenón received a scholarship to attend Manhattan School of Music and in 2001, he received a Masters in Saxophone Performance.   The distinguished list of educators he has studied with include: Angel Marrero, Leslie Lopez, Rafael Martinez, Danilo Perez, Dick Oatts, Dave Liebman, George Garzone and Bill Pierce. Read more »

Miguel Zenón- Blended at the Roots

Publication: irockjazz.com
Author: John Moultrie and Nyasha Nyamapfene
Date: March 2012

Miguel Zenón’s story is remarkable. Growing up in a barrio in Puerto Rico that was originally a settlement for freed African slaves, he discovered his calling in jazz as a teenager. Miguel arrived in Boston in 1996 having never studied jazz, yet 12 years later he received a MacArthur Genius grant and a Guggenheim award for his ability to blend the folkloric music of his island with America’s own original art form – jazz.

iRockJazz spoke with Miguel during his most recent visit to Chicago about growing up surrounded by the music of San Juan, how jazz changed his life, and how he has connected jazz with the music of Puerto Rico. Miguel describes more broadly where he sees jazz headed globally, and the extent to which the genre continues to transcend itself.

iRJ – Tell me a little about your home town in Puerto Rico, your early beginnings, and how you began with the music.

MZ – I grew in San Juan, Puerto Rico in a neighborhood called Santurce. It was a very traditional neighborhood linked to a lot of folklore. Music was around all the time. There was a gentleman in the neighborhood who taught music to kids for free every day. The idea was he’d teach you music theory and once he thought you were ready, you’d pick an instrument and join the marching band.

Initially I chose piano, but you can’t play piano in the marching band, so I chose saxophone. Funny enough when the time came, I was admitted to Escuela Libre de Musica – the local music school. A lot of musicians, like David Sanchez, went there. So I never got to play in the marching band because I enrolled in the school fulltime from 7th grade, learning classical music.

iRJ- So what year did you move to the US?

MZ – I moved to the US in 1996, two years after I finished high school. Around the time I was finishing at the school (I was 15 or 16) I started listening to jazz – Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, etc. Before that, I enjoyed music, but I really never thought I could make a living doing it. But when I discovered jazz, it really made a difference. It felt like a calling – something I could really relate to. I made up my mind to pursue jazz. From the time I graduated from high school, I started gigging, saving money, and trying to find scholarships, so that I could go to Berklee. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 14th, 2012 — 04:17pm

Miguel Zenón – Alma Adentro (Marsalis Music 2011)

Publication: Latin Jazz Network
Author: Raul da Gama
Date: February 26, 2012

That Miguel Zenón has been recognized as one of the most exciting young alto saxophonists to break into the scene has been known for several years now. So it should come as no surprise when he released a third album, Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook, in a loosely constructed trilogy that also included Jibaro (2004) and Esta Plena (2009). While these are all truly fine albums, this last one breaks the mould in both style and substance. First there is the sophisticated playing by the young saxophonist; something that is reflected in the gumption of his viscous ideas that devolve into fires that are fanned by both the jazz and Latin idioms. These cover everything from binary, to secondary and tertiary rhythms, fraught with electrifying, complex structures and there is the small matter of polyphony that turns simple melodies into something so exquisite and breathtaking that a shocking gasp seems to be a regular response solo after solo—from saxophone and piano.

Then there is the inspired arrangements of reeds that penetrate the near impervious fabric of the melodies like the tones of water colours spreading not only on the paper score, but on the entire musical canvas as well. The ingenuity of Guillermo Klein is the most important reason for this—if not the only reason for this. Yet this is not a matter of who came up with the idea of such an imaginative underscore, but how well the two men have articulated the invention. And this is why it is important to posit that both artists have played a role in the magnificent score no matter that Zenón is leading the charge. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on February 27th, 2012 — 11:28am

MacArthur genius Zenón takes on jazz genius Parker

Publication: Chicago Tribune
Author: Howard Reich
Date: February 20, 2012

Outside of Louis Armstrong, perhaps no musician commands greater reverence among jazz devotees than Charlie Parker. His virtuosity as alto saxophonist, brilliance as improviser and genius as a creator of bebop place him in the pantheon of jazz originals — alongside icons such as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Jelly Roll Morton.

Which makes Friday night’s concert by the Chicago Jazz Ensemble — “Ornithology: The Music of Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker” — a moment of both possibility and peril. No musician takes lightly the prospect of performing an evening of Bird’s music, due to its inherent technical and artistic hurdles. Yet the musicians who can hold their own in this repertoire emerge as victors, proving that they can address some of the most daunting work ever conceived in jazz.

For this program, CJE artistic director Dana Hall has engaged a singular alto saxophonist who, like Bird, also has looked relentlessly forward in every facet of his art: Miguel Zenón. Winner of a 2008 MacArthur Fellowship, or “genius grant,” Zenón has been fearless in bringing his Puerto Rican heritage to bear on his jazz compositions and improvisations, particularly in albums such as “Alma Adentro” (the best jazz release of 2011) and “Esta Plena” (an important release in 2009).Yet even Zenón approaches Friday’s event with eyes (and ears) wide open.

Charlie Parker is my greatest inspiration as a saxophone player — anything that involves him entails a large amount of respect,” says Zenón, 35. “You’ve got to be careful how you approach it. … But I’m not going to try to emulate what he played. He’s Charlie Parker, and I’m me.” Read more »

American Stories of Mixed Identity, Explored Through Mixed Media

Publication: The New York Times
Author: Ben Ratliff
Date: February 7, 2012

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — It’s been a while since the saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón has written a tune that wasn’t about something bigger than itself. Generally, he works without words or straight narrative — his medium is the small-to-medium-size jazz group — but he makes his music embody something: a process, a lesson, an idea.

Mr. Zenón was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and usually his bigger thoughts have arrived in the form of roots-minded albums, like his three records about aspects of his island’s musical culture: “Jíbaro” (2005), about the song form of back-country troubadours; “Esta Plena” (2009), about his island’s voice-and-percussion tradition; and “Alma Adentro” (2011), about Puerto Rico’s 20th-century standards.

On Saturday night at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University he took the next organizational and conceptual step forward into a 90-minute multimedia work, “Puerto Rico Nació en Mi: Tales From the Diaspora.”

Performed for the first time, it involved his quartet, a 12-piece big band and video backdrop; it was commissioned by Peak Performances, Montclair State’s performing arts series. Mr. Zenón hasn’t written for big band before, or done the kind of deep cross-media collaboration going on here, between his music and the work of the video artist David Dempewolf. (Mr. Dempewolf worked on another jazz-related piece several years ago, Jason Moran’s “In My Mind.”) But already the project seems about as good as it could reasonably be in concept and execution. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on February 8th, 2012 — 11:03am

Musician-scholar Miguel Zenón weaves Puerto Rican identity with jazz

Publication: NBC Latino
Author: Nina Terrero
Date: February 3, 2012

It’s early in the morning, just days before the world premiere of a special project that Latin jazz saxophonist/composer Miguel Zenón lovingly calls his “baby.” Chatting moments before heading off to rehearsal for “Puerto Rico Nació: Tales from the Diaspora” (which will be presented this weekend at Montclair State University in New Jersey), Zenón says that his passion project embodies the notion of identity “inspired by the Puerto Rican experience in the United States, and especially New York City.”

At 35-years-old, Zenón is regarded one of the most influential Latin jazz musicians of his generation. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on February 8th, 2012 — 11:04am