puerto rico

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

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

Miguel Zenón: What it means to be Nuyorican

Publication: Star-Ledger
Author: Tad Hendrickson
Date: February 3, 2012

Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón’s six albums balance jazz and Puerto Rican folk traditions with modern innovation in imaginative ways that have been universally acclaimed. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2008, and “Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook” (2011) earned him his most recent Grammy nomination.

This Saturday, he marks another milestone with the world premiere of “Puerto Rico Nació en Mi: Tales from the Diaspora” at Montclair State University. Whereas his last album was a large ensemble tribute to five great Puerto Rican composers, the Puerto Rico-born, New York-based Zenón uses another large ensemble to explore how Puerto Ricans and their children define themselves.

“The project was born out of the idea of digging deeper into the concept of Puerto Ricans (coming) to New York City; some people call them Nuyoricans,” says Zenón, 35, who released his first album as a leader in 2002. “It started with me reading about it in a couple of books and personal experiences I’ve had in New York. The idea was to see how they felt about their identity, whether they felt like Puerto Ricans or like a New Yorker.”

Zenón culled specific themes from the video and audio clips he recorded during interviews, and these will be part of the multifaceted performance thanks to video artist David Dempewolf, who also will add his impressionistic imagery. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on February 3rd, 2012 — 01:52pm

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 »

Miguel Zenón ‘Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook’

Publication: Boston Globe
Author: Bill Beuttler
Date: August 29, 2011

Having devoted previous albums to modern jazz interpretations of the jibaro and plena folk-music forms of his native Puerto Rico, the brilliant alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón is now doing the same for the island’s popular music. On “Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook,’’ Zenón’s longstanding quartet - including pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole, augmented by a 10-piece wind ensemble - offers boldly virtuosic reworkings of two tunes apiece from five of Puerto Rico’s most beloved songwriters. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on August 30th, 2011 — 02:25pm

Miguel Zenón is organizing free jazz performances in Puerto Rico

Caravana Cultural is a project born out of a personal desire to present music at its purest form. Our main objective is to bring music directly to the people, setting aside any financial or business related interest. Just Music, Plain and Simple. By focusing on Jazz Music, we intend to eliminate any social or political stigma that could be tied to this style of music, while also taking this music to places where the public has had little or no exposure to it. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on February 11th, 2011 — 04:30pm