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Miguel Zenón, The Puerto Rican Songbook
Publication: Voice of America’s Jazzbeat
Author: Diaa Bekheet
Date: December 26, 2011
To listen to Diaa Bekheet’s interview with Miguel Zenón, please visit the Voice of America website here.
One of the great jazz albums of 2011 is Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook. It’s a brilliant idea by acclaimed saxophonist Miguel Zenón to preserve the early 20th century’s jazz heritage of his native Puerto Rico. The album is modeled on The Great American Songbook, which features an entire century of American music from such masters as Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Kern, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bernstein and others. Zenón follows the footsteps of such great American composers and songwriters to offer the jazz public some of the 20th century’s best songs that represent the sounds of Puerto Rico.
“The album is basically a tribute to the Puerto Rican Songbook,” said Zenón in an interview with VOA’s Jazz Beat. “When I started thinking of the relationship that jazz has with The Great American Songbook of Cole Porter, Gershwin, Irving Berlin and all the great composers and how, you know, all this Puerto Rican Songbook in this case could sort of translate in the same way. I thought of exploring it that way and eventually became a recording.”
I talked with Zenón about the album, Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook. He said he wanted to bring the music of the great Puerto Rican songs to young people today, hoping to preserve it for future generations. Here’s the interview in full with three newly-arranged songs from The Puerto Rican Songbook.
Zenón’s idea was to take songs written by some of the greatest and most recognized Puerto Rican songwriters and composers in the 20th century from his early childhood, the time of his parents and grandparents, explore those compositions and translate and arrange them into a style he usually performs with his band.
This is the second time Miguel Zenón’s reimagines and rearranges the music of his native Puerto Rico. His 2004 album, Jibaro, was a courageous attempt to reinterpret Puerto Rico’s rural music. The album’s success, along with the Puerto Rican Songbook will become Zenón trademark.