New York, New York
Age: 31 at time of award
Published January 27, 2008
Miguel Zenón is a young jazz musician who is expanding the boundaries of Latin and jazz music through his elegant and innovative musical collages. As both a saxophonist and a composer, Zenón demonstrates an astonishing mastery of old and new jazz idioms, from Afro-Caribbean and Latin American rhythmical concepts to free and avant-garde jazz. Beginning with his 2001 recording Looking Forward, Zenón has exhibited a high degree of daring and sophistication in the manipulation of conventional jazz forms. His third album, Jíbaro (2005), illuminates his intense engagement with the indigenous music of his native Puerto Rico. Forgoing the Afro-Caribbean sound that characterizes most Latin jazz, Zenón was inspired by la música jíbara — string-based folkloric music popular in the Puerto Rican countryside. Unlike other attempts to fuse jazz and jíbaro, which have retained the traditional instrumentation with little harmonic variation, in Zenón’s hands the essential elements of jíbaro serve as the compositional and rhythmic underpinning of his contemporary jazz arrangements. The result is a complex yet accessible sound that is overflowing with feeling and passion and maintains the integrity of the island’s music. This young musician and composer is at once reestablishing the artistic, cultural, and social tradition of jazz while creating an entirely new jazz language for the 21st century.
Miguel Zenón received a B.A. (1998) from the Berklee College of Music and an M.A. (2001) from the Manhattan School of Music. His additional recordings include Ceremonial (2004) and Awake (2008). He has performed at venues and in festivals throughout the United States and abroad, including the Jazz Standard, the Village Vanguard, and Carnegie Hall.
Miguel Zenón has released nine recordings as a leader, including Identities Are Changeable (2014) and the Grammy-nominated Alma Adentro (2011). As a sideman, he has worked with jazz luminaries such as the SFJAZZ Collective, Charlie Haden, the Mingus Big Band, Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanchez, Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner, and Steve Coleman. Zenón has been featured in articles in publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as gracing the cover of Downbeat Magazine on two occasions (2010 and 2014).
Updated August 2015
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On Twitter: @miguelzenon