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.
Zenón has performed and/or recorded with a quite a diverse array of artists including: Charlie Haden, David Sanchez, The Village Vanguard Orchestra, Bobby Hutcherson, Bob Moses and Mozamba, The Either Orchestra, Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos, The Mingus Big Band, Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band, Ray Barretto, and Steve Coleman, among others.
In 2004 Zenón was asked to become one of the founding members of the SFJAZZ Collective; an octet whose past and present members include Joshua Redman, Bobby Hutcherson, Nicholas Payton, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas and Brian Blade. The members, who participate in a residency period where they workshop and rehearse new music, divide their time (roughly two months) between composing, performing and teaching. The SFJAZZ Collective has toured in the US, Canada, Asia, and Europe and to date, have released five critically acclaimed live recordings, garnering them a spot in the Downbeat Critic’s Poll Rising Star Small Group category in both 2006 and 2007 – an honor which, coincidentally, they shared with Zenón’s own quartet.
The Saxophonist and Composer has released four recordings as a Leader. His debut CD Looking Forward, was selected by the New York Times as the number one independent jazz record of 2002. In 2004, after being one of the first artists signed to Marsalis Music, he released the critically acclaimed Ceremonial. This same year also marked the beginning of three consecutive years on the top of the Downbeat Critic’s Poll in the Rising Star Alto Sax category. Zenón topped that category as well in 2008,making that the fourth time in the last five years. In 2005 Zenón also released Jibaro, a tribute to the “Musica Jibara” of Puerto Rico and commissioned by a grant from the New York State Council of the Arts. In 2006, the readers of Jazz Times Magazine voted him the Best New Artist of the Year. Awake, his fourth recording as a leader was released in April 2008. It was chosen as one of the Best Jazz Cd’s of 2008 by Jazz.com, Jazz Improv Magazine, Cuadernos de Jazz, JazzTimes and El Nuevo Dia, among others.
Esta Plena creates a bridge between elements of “Jazz Music” and “Plena Music” from Puerto Rico. It was unanimously heralded as one of the best Jazz releases of 2009 by publications such as The Village Voice, The Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Enquire and Jazz Times, as well receiving a 5 Stars review on the heralded Downbeat Magazine. It also received two Grammy Nominations, for “Best Latin Jazz Album” and “Best Improvised Jazz Solo” , and a Latin Grammy Nomination for “Best Latin Jazz Album”.
His latest recording, Alma Adentro (Marsalis Music, 2011), is a tribute to The Puerto Rican Songbook. On it he arranges and explores the music of five legendary Puerto Rican composers: Bobby Capó, Tite Curet Alonso, Pedro Flores, Rafael Hernández, and Sylvia Rexach (whom he considers “the George Gershwins, Cole Porters and Jerome Kerns of Puerto Rican song”). The recording features his longtime working quartet of pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole, plus a ten piece woodwind ensemble orchestrated and conducted by close friend and collaborator Guillermo Klein. This groundbreaking project both honors the music of these masters while at the same time exposing their music to new audiences. Alma Adentro was chosen as the Best Jazz Recording of 2011 by iTunes and NPR, and was Nominated for a 2012 Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.