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Saxophonist Miguel Zenón scores first nominations for Grammys.
You have to search deep in the 109 categories of the Grammy Awards nominees list to find a Latino artist, but almost halfway through it, you score.
Miguel Zenón, 32, a Puerto Rican saxophonist prodigy, received his first two nominations last Wednesday for his fifth CD, “Esta Plena,” a captivating jazz tribute to plena, an African derived rhythm from the Caribbean island.
“It’s an honor being nominated, and I’m sure it will help us spread our music in many ways,” said Zenón, who lives in Washington Heights. “It always feel good when people appreciate what you do.”
Plena music features hand-held pleneras (drums), which Zenón incorporates into his latest production along with his soaring alto sax and the other musicians in his quartet.
The CD was nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album while the single “Villa Palmeras” — named after a barrio of Santurce, P.R., that he called one of the epicenters of plena on the island — got a nod for Best Improvised Jazz Solo (categories 49 and 46, if you were wondering).
“Santurce has a specific plena sound that’s a lot more aggressive; it is a very fast-driving kind. So when I wrote that song, I was trying to capture that Villa Palmeras style of playing,” he explained.
Zenón, who won the prestigious MacArthur “genius” grant last year, said that over the last few years he has turned his attention to Puerto Rican music he “grew up listening to and playing in parrandas [a style of caroling].”
For Best Latin Jazz Album, Zenón is up against another great album, “Juntos para Siempre,” by the Cuban father-and-son piano team of Bebo Valdés and Chucho Valdés.
Wrapping up the category are Nuyorican conga player Chembo Corniel, pianist Geoffrey Keezer and Brazilian trumpeter Claudio Roditi.
Famed Cuban saxophonist and four-time Grammy winner Paquito D’Rivera also received two nominations.
In the Latin music categories, rockers Aterciopelados and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Spanish singer Bebe and reggaetón stars Calle 13 and Wisín y Yandel will compete in the everything-goes “Best Latin Rock, Alternative or Urban Album” category.
Other nominated Latinos include Argentine Josefina Scaglione for the musical score of the Broadway revival of “West Side Story” and Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez for Best Classical Vocal Performance (category 105, if you were wondering.)