Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Miguel Zenon. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Miguel Zenon: – I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Just like most Latin American countries, in Puerto Rico music is part of everyday life, so I grew up around a lot of music and became interested early on.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the saxophon?
MZ: – At age eleven I was admitted into La Escuela Libre de Musica, a Middle School and High School that specializes in music, and attended the school for six years. My first day there I had to choose an instrument and, for some reason, my mind was made up for playing the piano. But all the piano spots were taken already, and out of all the remaining options (guitar, oboe, bassoon and saxophone) it was the saxophone that made the most sense. In many ways I was more interested in music as a whole than in a particular instrument, but eventually became very attached to the saxophone.
JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the saxophon?
MZ: – My first saxophone teacher was Angel Marrero, and he gave me all the tools I needed to eventually develop into a professional saxophone player. Other teachers who have been instrumental during my career are Bill Pierce, Dick Oatts, Hal Crook, Ed Tomassi and Danilo Perez.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
MZ: – At some point during my early 20’s I started paying a lot of attention to sound, and since then it has become my number one priority. I think about sound in two ways. First is the physical aspect of producing a sound on the saxophone, thinking about everything our body needs to be able for that sound to be one of high quality, no matter the style of music we play. The other is the personality in the sound, which ultimately should be a reflection of ourselves, like our “instrumental voice”.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
MZ: – I spend most of my practice time on things that could be considered “simple”, but that are absolutely essential for me in terms of my day to day activities. Sound, Technique, Scales, Repertoire…I still spend a lot of time going through Transcriptions, something that has been instrumental to my development as a player. In terms of rhythm, I tend to develop most of the rhythmic concepts I’m interested in away from the horn. Rhythmic Layers, Rhythmic Counterpoint, Various ways of subdividing beats and opening the door to other Rhythmic Zones…When I feel comfortable with these concepts I then bring them to the saxophone or into my compositions.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
MZ: – As a jazz improviser one of my main concerns is being as harmonically accurate as I can. So, if I’m working on a harmonic progression I’ll start with simple voice leading exercises and them eventually try too see how much tension I can add while still maintaining the same effect and flow.
JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?
MZ: – My advice would be to be as informed as possible and stay on top of how the jazz world changes and evolves. I know of many musicians who get stock on the way things were done during a particular time of their careers, and as a consequence can’t adapt to the times. So I try to be aware of what’s going on in the business side of things and find my space within that…
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
MZ: – Of course, it’s definitely possible to make a living off this music. But it requires us to be proactive and to put in a lot of hard work.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
MZ: – Jazz music is great, but its not popular music. So, by definition, it is not the type of music that will be attractive to the majority of the population. Its still loved all around the world and today’s jazz world boasts some of the greatest musicians in the history of any style of music. I think we should enjoy it for what it is instead of trying to make it into something is not.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
MZ: – The definition of something that is “Spiritual” can be very different for a lot of people. I feel that when we play music we’re portraying a reflection of our inner selfs into the world and using music to create a balance within our lives.
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
MZ: – If I’m fearful of anything it would be the state of the world right now. There seems to be an utter disregard for the well being of our planet and a general lack of empathy for other human beings. I fear for the future of my children and grandchildren and the world we’re leaving them.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
MZ: – For the most part I’m trying to get better in every way and not be contempt or satisfied with where things are now.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
MZ: – Of course. Jazz IS folk music and a lot of its essential elements (interaction, call and response, rhythm identity) can be found in folk music from all over the world.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
MZ: – Here’s a list of current listening:
Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory
Wynton Marsalis – Live At Blues Alley
IFÉ – IIII + IIII
Ivan Lins – A Noite/Somos Todos Iguais Nesta Noite/Tributo a Noel Rosa
Jaga Jazzist – Starfire
Antibalas – Where The Gods Are in Peace
Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
Laura Marling – Semper Femina
Leiteres Leite & Orkestra Rumpilezz
JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?
MZ: – Selmer Mark 6, Meyer Mouthpiece #6 Small Chamber, D’Addario Reeds #4 Hard, Olegature.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan