Interview with Miguel Zenon: I’m attracted to a certain level of complexity in music … Video

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Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Miguel Zenon. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – When you improvise, you know where you’re going. It’s a matter of taking certain paths and certain directions?

Miguel Zenon: – I think improvising is a spontaneous creative process based on information that has been gathered previously. Very much like speaking, really. In jazz music a lot of things come into play, including how we organize and express this “language”, how we acknowledge preset structures (like meter, harmonic progressions and phrases) and how we react to what’s being played around us.

JBN: – Do you ever get the feeling that music majors, and particularly people who are going into jazz, are being cranked out much like business majors? That they are not really able to express themselves as jazz musicians?

MZ: – I actually feel that being somewhat well versed in the music business is essential for any musician working in today’s environment. Music is first, of course, but you need to be aware of how things work from a business standpoint. Otherwise young musicians will find themselves playing catch-up at some point.

JBN: – What about somebody who is really gifted and puts together a band and just gets upset to the point of quitting because of the business aspects-the agents and the clubs?

MZ: – Yes, the music business is very unpredictable and can – at times – be unfair. The most talented musicians will not necessarily be the most successful, and that’s a fact. But I believe that, most often that not, every artist will be presented with an opportunity at some point in time; an opportunity that could end up opening the door to bigger and better things. Our responsibility as artists is to be ready for those opportunities, so that when they come (and they will) we can be at our best.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

MZ: – I guess you need to have a certain amount of confidence in what you’re doing and be very selective about what’s going to influence your direction.

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

MZ: – It kind of depends on who you ask.  I’m actually really attracted to a certain level of complexity in music, so the intellectual side of it has always come naturally to me. But there is also something very attractive in Folkloric music, which I consider to be the purest musical expression of all. Ideally there should be an equal balance between the two worlds.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

MZ: – My philosophy is that I try to be as honest as I can possibly be as an artist. If that connects with an audience, then I consider that a bonus. But I would never tailor what I do in order to please an audience; it’s just not my personality.

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

MZ: – Too many to count, really. But I definitely consider myself very luck to have gotten the chance to play with so many of my heroes over the years.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

MZ: – These “Old” tunes are an integral part of the jazz language and tradition, and it would be impossible to try to be well versed as a Jazz musician without being somewhat familiar with the repertoire.

JBN: – And lastly, being a teacher, do you find it difficult to write music yourself?

MZ: – No, I see writing as an extension of what I do as an improviser, I feel like it’s all connected. It just takes some practice to get to the point where you can express yourself as a composer.

JBN: – How important is it to you to have an original approach? Can you comment on the bridge between being a musician and being a composer?

MZ: – I do feel is important to find your own personality as a musician, but it needs to be grounded on tradition and on the music already played by the masters of this music. Personality is not something that happens overnight, but something that takes time and patience.

JBN: – Do you have an idea of what it is you’re trying to say or get across? Is it an idea or is it just something that we feel?

MZ: – Is different for everyone, but I think you always come into a creative environment with a certain amount of knowledge of what you’ll be dealing with, in terms of structure, etc…The challenge is to try not to get too comfortable with the things that feel good or things that get across to the audience, and instead look for ways to challenge yourself  creatively.

JBN: – What do you see for your extended future? You know what you have going on? You have life?If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

MZ: – Ideally I would like to have as much time as possible to practice, play and write music. It’s also important for me to spend time with my family. The one thing that I definitely could do less of is travelling. I love to play, but would definitely prefer to spend less time on planes, hotels and airports.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

MZ: – A few recent favorites:

Bon Iver – i,i

Aca Seca Trio – Trino

Guillermo Klein – Cristal

Golden Valley is Now – Golden Valley is Now

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

MZ: – No specific message, really. Just try to be honest and hope that your musical conception comes across.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

MZ: – I would have loved be around in the 50s-60s and get a chance to hear all the amazing music being played then.

JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

MZ: – What are you listening to these days?

JBN: – Kenny Barron and Dave Holland Duo …

JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

MZ: – Not sure I understand the question, but really enjoyed the questions.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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