College Faculty Jazz Arts: Jazz Composition
“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.”
— MacArthur Foundation, 2008.
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 and composers of his generation, he has also developed a unique voice as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between Jazz and his many musical influences.
Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Zenón has built a distinguished career as a leader, releasing fifteen albums under his own name. In addition, he has honed his artistic identity by collaborating with both established jazz masters and the music’s younger innovators, irrespective of style and genre. Zenón has toured and/or recorded with artists including The SFJAZZ Collective, Charlie Haden, Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner, David Sánchez, Danilo Perez, The Village Vanguard Orchestra, Kurt Elling, Guillermo Klein & Los Guachos, The Jeff Ballard Trio, Antonio Sanchez, Brian Lynch, Joey Calderazzo, Steve Coleman, Ray Barreto, Andy Montañez, Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band, The Mingus Big Band and Bobby Hutcherson.
As a composer he has been commissioned by SFJAZZ, NYO Jazz, The New York State Council for the Arts, Chamber Music America, Logan Center for The Arts, Miller Theater, The Hyde Park Jazz Festival, The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, MIT, Spektral Quartet, The Hewlett Foundation, Peak Performances, PRISM Quartet and many of his peers.
Zenón has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Revista Milenio, Bloomberg Pursuits, Jazz Times, Jazziz, The Boston Globe, Billboard, Jazz Inside, Newsday and Details. He topped both the Jazz Artist of the Year and Alto Saxophonist of the Year categories in the 2014 JazzTimes Critics Poll and was selected as Alto Saxophonist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association in 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2020 (when he was also recognized as Arranger of the Year). In 2023 he was recognized by the same organization as the Composer of the Year.
In April 2008 Zenón received a fellowship from the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Later that year he was one of 25 distinguished individuals chosen to receive a coveted MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant.” In 2022 he received an Honorary Doctorate from La Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the highest honor bestowed by the institution.
Zenón has given hundreds of lectures and master classes and has taught all over the world, at institutions including Conservatoire de Paris, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Columbia University, Princeton University, The Kimmel Center, The Banff Centre, Siena Jazz, North Texas University, Conservatorium Van Amsterdam, Musik Akademie Basel, Georgia State University, Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, UMass Amherst and UCLA. He is also a faculty member in the Music & Theater Arts Department at MIT, as well as the current Visiting Scholar for the Harmony and Jazz Composition Department at Berklee College of Music. But perhaps what best reflects his commitment to education and cements his growing reputation as a cultural ambassador is Caravana Cultural, a program he founded in 2011.
The main purpose of Caravana Cultural is to present free-of-charge Jazz concerts in rural areas of Puerto Rico. The program makes a “cultural investment” in the Island by giving these communities a chance to listen to jazz of the highest caliber (Zenón invites some of the best musicians in the New York jazz scene to perform as guests), while at the same time getting young Puerto Rican musicians actively involved in the concert activities. Since February 2011, Zenón has presented a concert every four to six months. Each concert focuses on the music of a specific jazz legend (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, among others) and is preceded by a pre-concert presentation which touches on the basic elements of jazz and improvisation.
Zenón lives in New York City with his wife Elga and their daughter.
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