Miguel Zenón

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Miguel Zenón
Miguel Zenon 06n5436.jpg
Zenón performing at the 2009 Moers Festival
Background information
Born (1976-12-30) December 30, 1976 (age 42)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
InstrumentsAlto saxophone
Years active2000s–present
LabelsMiel, Marsalis Music
Associated actsMiguel Zenón Quartet, SFJAZZ Collective

Miguel Zenón (born December 30, 1976) is a Puerto Rican alto saxophonist, composer, band leader, music producer, and educator. He is a multiple Grammy Award nominee,[1] and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship[2] and a MacArthur Fellowship.[3] Zenón has released many albums as a band leader and appeared on over 70 recordings as a sideman.[4]

Early life[edit]

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Zenón was raised in Residencial Luis Llorens Torres, the largest housing project in the Island. Although he didn't grow up in a family of musicians, he was nevertheless exposed to various styles of music from a very early age. At age 10 he received his first lessons on music theory and solfeggio from Ernesto Vigoreaux, an elderly gentleman who traveled from the adjacent neighborhood of Villa Palmeras to Llorens Torres every day in order to work with disadvantaged youth in the community.[5] Zenón would eventually be admitted to Escuela Libre de Música, a performing arts middle school and high school where he was trained for six years on classical saxophone by Angel Marrero.[6] On the 11th grade he was exposed to jazz music by some of his friends at the school and became very interested in the concept of improvisation and on the music of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. Although he had always shown interest in the natural sciences, he declined an engineering scholarship from the Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez (the foremost engineering institution in the Island) and decided to pursue a career in music.[7] After a year and a half worth of efforts to gather enough funds in scholarships and financial aid, Zenón moved to Boston in the spring of 1996 to begin his studies at Berklee College of Music.[8]

Education and session work[edit]

At Berklee, Zenón's classmates included Antonio Sánchez, Anat Cohen, Avishai Cohen, Jaleel Shaw, and Jeremy Pelt. During his time in Boston, he was heavily influenced by Bill Pierce, Ed Tomassi, and Hal Crook. It was also during this time that he met Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez, who would become a mentor and collaborator.[9] After graduating from Berklee in 1996,[10] Zenón attended Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with Dick Oatts, Nils Vigeland and Ludmila Ulehla and received a master's degree in Performance in 2001 before settling in New York City.[11] As a sideman, he has worked with SFJAZZ Collective, Charlie Haden, Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner, Guillermo Klein & Los Guachos, David Sánchez, Danilo Pérez, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, The Mingus Big Band, Ray Barreto, Jerry González & The Fort Apache Band, Jeff Ballard Trio, Miles Okazaki, Dan Weiss, Dan Tepfer, Bobby Hutcherson, Steve Coleman, Andy Montañez, Brian Lynch, Antonio Sánchez, Paoli Mejías, David Gilmore, and Jason Lindner.

As leader[edit]

The Miguel Zenón Quartet[edit]

In 1999 Zenón started getting together with Mexican drummer Antonio Sánchez (who he met at Berklee College of Music), Austrian bassist Hans Glawischnig (Zenón's bandmate in the David Sanchez Group) and Venezuelan pianist Luis Perdomo (a classmate of Glawischnig's at The Manhattan School of Music). They would meet for informal rehearsal sessions at Glawischnig's apartment in New York's Upper West Side and play through some of Zenón's early compositions. The group, which would eventually become the Miguel Zenón Quartet,[12] soon started performing at various venues in the city, such as the C Note and The Jazz Gallery. In 2005 Sanchez began working regularly with The Pat Metheny Group, and was replaced in the Quartet by Puerto Rican drummer Henry Cole, for what has become the longest running version of the ensemble.[13]

Recordings as leader[edit]

  • Looking Forward – Fresh Sound New Talent (2002): Recommended by some of his peers, Miguel Zenón reached a deal with the Spanish record label Fresh Sound New Talent, which released his first album as a leader. The recording featured his working Quartet (with Perdomo, Glawischnig and Sanchez) and included many special guests, such as saxophonist David Sanchez, guitarist Ben Monder and percussionist Pernell Saturnino.[14] The album was selected by the New York Times as the top "Alternative" jazz recording of 2002.[15]
  • Ceremonial – Marsalis Music (2004): After Zenón's first release, he was approached by saxophonist Branford Marsalis (whom Zenón had met while working with David Sanchez) to join his newly formed record label Marsalis Music. Zenón was signed to a multi-record deal and released his second album as a leader with the label.[16] The album featured the Quartet performing his original compositions plus an arrangement of the Gospel Hymn "Great is Thy Faithfulness". Ceremonial was described by All About Jazz as a "recording (that) brings not only Latin persuasions but also a refined mix of contemporary, classic, and global influences… Highly recommended".[17]
  • Jíbaro – Marsalis Music (2005): His third recording as a leader featured original compositions inspired by elements coming from la La Música Jibara, a style of folk music from the rural areas of Puerto Rico. About Jíbaro, Jazz Times Magazine wrote: "A searing modern-jazz sound, a quartet sensibility that Zenon and his mates have spent years developing. The result is profound yet joyful, as rhythmically precise as it is lyrical and limber."[18]
  • Awake – Marsalis Music (2008): Zenón's fourth release, and the first to incorporate Henry Cole on the drum chair, incorporates a string quartet and additional horns to Zenón's core group for and outing of original compositions.
  • Esta Plena – Marsalis Music (2009): His fifth album was inspired by Plena music from Puerto Rico, with original compositions supported by a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.[1] On it Zenón augmented his quartet to include three percussionist/vocalists and took on the additional roles of both lyricist and vocalist. Esta Plena received two Grammy nominations[19] (Best Improvised Solo and Best Latin Jazz Album) and a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album.[20]
  • Alma Adentro – Marsalis Music (2011): A tribute to the Puerto Rican Songbook on which Zenón arranged the music of five Puerto Rican composers: Bobby Capo, Tite Curet Alonso, Pedro Flores, Rafael Hernandez and Sylvia Rexach. The recording features his Quartet plus a ten-piece woodwind ensemble orchestrated and conducted by Guillermo Klein. Alma Adentro was chosen as the Best Jazz Recording of 2011 by iTunes and NPR,[21] and received a Grammy nomination for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album[22] plus a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Album.[23]
  • Rayuela – Sunnyside Records (2012): A collaboration with French pianist/composer Laurent Coq, this album was inspired on the book of the same name by Argentinean writer Julio Cortazar. The recording also features Dana Leong (on cello and trombone) and Dan Weiss (on table, drums and percussion).
  • Oye!!! Live in Puerto Rico – Miel Music (2013): Zenón's eight recording as a leader (and first for his independent label Miel Music) features the debut recording of The Rhythm Collective, an ensemble first put together in 2003 for a month long tour of West Africa. The "all Puerto Rican" group includes Aldemar Valentín on electric bass, Tony Escapa on drums and Reinaldo de Jesus on percussion.
  • Identities Are Changeable – Miel Music (2014): Inspired by the idea of national identity as experienced by the Puerto Rican community in the United States, specifically in the New York City area. The music on the album was written around a series of interviews with several individuals, all of them New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent. The album, which is also complemented by a video installment by David Dempewolf, features his Quartet plus a twelve-piece Big Band. Identities Are Changeable received a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album.[24]
  • Típico – Miel Music (2017): Celebrates the Miguel Zenón Quartet, his working band of more than 15 years. The album features original music by Zenón, which was specifically written for the members of the Quartet and directly inspired by their individual playing and personalities. Típico received a Grammy nomination and a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album.[25]
  • Yo Soy La Tradición – Miel Music (2018): Original compositions by Zenón, inspired by various cultural and musical traditions from Puerto Rico. The music is scored for Alto Saxophone and String Quartet and features Spektral Quartet, a string ensemble based in Chicago, IL.

Teaching and composing[edit]

Zenón has given hundreds of lectures and master classes and has taught all over the world at institutions which include: The Banff Centre,[26] Berklee College of Music, Siena Jazz,[27] Conservatorium Van Amsterdam,[28] Musik Akademie Basel, Conservatoire de Paris, University of Manitoba, Manhattan School of Music, Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, Columbia University, Princeton University, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Universidad Veracruzana,[29] UMass- Amherst[30] and The Brubeck Institute.[31] He is also a permanent faculty member at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.[32] As a composer he has been commissioned by SFJAZZ, The New York State Council for the Arts,[33] Chamber Music America, The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation,[34] Hyde Park Jazz Festival,[35] The Logan Center for the Arts,[35] Jazz Reach,[36] Peak Performances,[37] PRISM Quartet,[38]Carnegie Hall,[39]MIT[40] and many of his peers.

Caravana Cultural[edit]

In 2011 Zenón founded Caravana Cultural, an initiative that organizes free jazz concerts in rural areas of Puerto Rico. Each concert focuses on the music of a distinguished jazz figure (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, among others) and is preceded by presentation that touches on the basic elements of jazz and improvisation. The concert also incorporates young musicians from the community who join the band on the last piece of the presentation. Caravana Cultural, which is funded and produced by Zenón, looks to make a "cultural investment" in the island using jazz as a vehicle while simultaneously expanding the audience.[41]

Awards and honors[edit]

He has been featured in The New York Times,[42] The Wall Street Journal,[43] The Los Angeles Times,[4] The Chicago Tribune,[44] Bloomberg Pursuits,[45] Jazz Times,[46] Jazziz, Boston Globe,[47] Billboard, Jazz Inside, Newsday,[48] and Details. He also topped both the Jazz Artist of the Year and Alto Saxophonist of the Year categories on the 2014 Jazz Times Critics Poll[49] and was selected as the 2015 and 2018 Alto Saxophonist of the Year by the Jazz Journalist Association.[50] Zenón is a five-time Grammy nominee[22] and a three-time Latin Grammy nominee.[23] In 2008 he received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation[1] (which resulted in his recording Esta Plena) and later that year also received a fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation.[2]


As leader[edit]

  • Looking Forward (Fresh Sound, 2002)
  • Ceremonial (Marsalis Music, 2004)
  • Jíbaro (Marsalis, 2005)
  • Awake (Marsalis, 2008)
  • Esta Plena (Marsalis, 2009)
  • Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook (Marsalis, 2011)
  • Rayuela with Laurent Coq (Sunnyside, 2012)
  • Oye!!! Live in Puerto Rico with The Rhythm Collective (Miel, 2013)
  • Identities are Changeable (Miel, 2014)
  • Típico (Miel, 2017)[4]
  • Yo Soy La Tradicion (Miel, 2018)

As sideman[edit]

With Bobby Avey

  • Authority Melts From Me (Whirlwind, 2014)

With Jeff Ballard

  • Time's Tales (Okeh, 2014)

With Ray Barreto

  • Homage to Art Blakey (Sunnyside, 2003)

With Edmar Castañeda

  • Double Portion (2012)

With César Cardoso

  • Interchange (Antena 2, 2018)

With Henry Cole

  • Roots Before Branches (2012)

With Stephan Crump

  • Tuckahoe (Accurate, 2001)

With Adam Cruz

  • Milestone (Sunnyside, 2012)

With Alexis Cuadrado

  • A Lorca Soundscape (Sunnyside, 2013)

With Fernando García

  • Guasábara Puerto Rico (Zoho, 2018)

With David Gilmore

  • Numerology – Live at The Jazz Standard (2012)

With Hans Glawischnig

  • Panorama (Sunnyside, 2008)
  • Common Ground (Fresh Sound, 2003)

With Edsel Gomez

  • Cubist Music (Zoho, 2006)

With Charlie Haden

  • Not in Our Name (Verve, 2005)
  • The Land of the Sun (Verve, 2004)

With Guillermo Klein

  • Los Guachos V (Sunnyside, 2016)
  • Carrera (Sunnyside, 2012)
  • Bienestan (Sunnyside, 2011)
  • Filtros (Sunnyside, 2008)
  • Los Guachos 3 (2002)

With Julien Labro

  • From This Point Forward (Azica, 2014)

With Jason Lindner

  • Live at The Jazz Gallery (Ansic, 2007)

With Brian Lynch

  • Spheres of Influence Suite (Ewe, 2006)
  • 24/7 (Nagel Heyer, 2005)

With The Mingus Big Band

  • I Am Three (2005)

With Paoli Mejias

  • Abriendo Camino (2018)
  • Jazzambia (2008)
  • Transcend (2006)
  • Mi Tambor (2004)

With Stu Mindeman

  • Woven Threads (2018)

With Andy Montañez

  • Sueño (November 2012)

With Miles Okazaki

  • Figurations (Sunnyside, 2012)
  • Generations (Sunnyside, 2009)
  • Mirror (2006)

With Luis Perdomo

  • Links (Criss Cross, 2013)
  • Focus Point (RKM, 2004)

With PRISM Quartet

  • Heritage/Evolution Vol. 1 (Innova, 2015)

With Antonio Sánchez

With David Sánchez

  • Coral (Sony, 2004)
  • Travesía (Columbia, 2002)
  • Melaza (Columbia, 2001)

With SFJAZZ Collective

  • Live at The SFJAZZ Center 2017 (SFJAZZ, 2018)
  • Live at The SFJAZZ Center 2016 (SFJAZZ, 2017)
  • Live at The SFJAZZ Center 2015 (SFJAZZ, 2016)
  • Live at The SFJAZZ Center 2014 (SFJAZZ, 2015)
  • 10th anniversary (SFJAZZ, 2014)
  • Live at The SFJAZZ Center (SFJAZZ, 2013)
  • Wonder – The Songs of Stevie Wonder (SFJAZZ, 2013)
  • Live 2011 8th Annual Concert Tour (SFJAZZ, 2011)
  • Live 2010 7th Annual Concert Tour (SFJAZZ, 2010)
  • Live 2009 6th Annual Concert Tour (SFJAZZ, 2009)
  • Live 2008 5th Annual Concert Tour (SFJAZZ, 2008)
  • Live 2007 4th Annual Concert Tour (SFJAZZ, 2007)
  • Live 2006 3rd Annual Concert Tour (SFJAZZ, 2007)
  • SFJAZZ Collective 2 (Nonesuch, 2006)
  • Live 2005 2nd Annual Concert Tour (SFJAZZ, 2006)
  • SFJAZZ Collective (Nonesuch, 2005)
  • Inaugural Season 2004 (SFJAZZ, 2004)

With Anthony Tidd (Quite Sane)

  • The Child of Troubled Times (Rykodisc, 2002)

With Kenny Werner

  • Coalition (Half Note, 2014)

With Dan Weiss

  • Sixteen: Drummers Suite (Pi Recordings, 2016)

As Co-Producer[edit]

With Jonathan Suazo

  • Extracts of a Desire


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  2. ^ a b "John S Guggenheim Fellowship". Archived from the original on 2013-05-27.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
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  6. ^ "ODA A LA LIBRE - PROMO". Vimeo. 2014-08-19. Retrieved 2016-11-29.
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External links[edit]