Miguel Zenón: Jazz and the Puerto Rican Identity

Miguel Zenón’s latest initiative involves mixing jazz with video to educate audiences on the complicated topic of the Puerto Rican identify. In Zenón’s concert he explores this topic from the Puerto Rican diaspora perspective, and uses jazz as the language to link culture and identity.

Zenón showcased this educational innovation in a recent concert he offered in the New England Conservatory (NEC) titled “Identities Are Changeable: Tales from the Diaspora”. The concert featured Miguel Zenón’s quartet as well as the student members of the NEC Jazz Orchestra. The concert was covered for Jazz Times magazine by Bill Beuttler.

Miguel’s Music, Culture, and Education

Miguel’s musical career has been centered around music, culture, and education. Zenón has found very creative ways to combine these three aspects of his life. Puerto Rican music and songs have been the focus of 3 of his 6 recordings as a bandleader. The albums “Jíbaro”, “Esta Plena”, and his latest “Alma Adentro; Songs from the Puerto Rican Songbook” are clear examples of Miguel’s creative mind in combining Puerto Rican musical heritage within jazz elements. “Alma Adentro” is one of my favorite jazz albums in my collection (you can read my CD Review of “Alma Adentro” on the link below).

With the three above-mentioned jazz recordings, Miguel Zenón has taken Puerto Rican music to the mass audience of jazz listeners, not just to the Latino community. These projects have provided Miguel a powerful educational vehicle, which Zenón has embraced wholeheartedly.

Beside doing traditional education at the New England Conservatory, Miguel has also created the innovative “Caravana Cultural” (Cultural Caravan). With this project, Miguel uses the opportunity to take jazz to small towns in Puerto Rico where they normally don’t have much exposure to it. In these free concerts of “Caravana Cultural”, Miguel focuses on one prominent figure of Jazz music (i.e., John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, etc.) and also provides a chance to local talent to show their chops.

Identities are Changeable

Miguel Zenon's Quartet and Hector Aviles at center.

I would love to see one of these “Identities are Changeable” concerts. Miguel Zenón has a powerful quartet, composed of Venezuelan Luis Perdomo in the piano (see my blog on Luis Perdomo HERE), Hans Glawischnig on bass, and Henry Cole on drums (see my review of Henry’s CD HERE). Their performance at Seattle’s Jazz Alley was amazing (see blog of that event HERE).

However, for now I had to settle to just read the concert review by Bill Beuttler in Jazz Times. You can read the interesting concert review in the link below. I’m hoping Miguel Zenón takes this creative musical and educational project to a wider audience by releasing it in a CD/DVD version.

Latino Music Cafe Links

Jazz Times article: “Live review: Miguel Zenón Quartet and NEC Jazz Orch. in Boston
Miguel Zenón’s “Alma Adentro” CD Review

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