Teaching and performing

The Rimon music school hosts saxophonist Miguel Zenon in a host of events

January 26, 2017 16:09
4 minute read.
Saxophonist Miguel Zenon

Saxophonist Miguel Zenon. (photo credit: JIMMY KATZ)

The Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music is one of Israel’s top institutions of higher musical education. As such, it is only fitting that the Ramat Hasharon facility’s authorities should turn to someone like Miguel Zenon to be the principal performing guest of the school’s Saxophone Day proceedings, which will take place on February 1.

The 40-year-old New York-based Puerto Rican native reedman will be kept suitably busy during his foray over here. The event program will have Zenon conducting master classes and participating in workshops, covering such fundamental areas of music-making as improvisation-based composition. Zenon will also star in a concert, alongside some of the Rimon teaching staff. Entry to all Saxophone Day slots is free, pending advance registration on the Rimon website (http://www.rimonschool.co.il/).

Zenon will also be the star turn at the previous day’s show at the Shablul Jazz Club in the Tel Aviv Port (9 p.m.), when he will share the stage with a number of Rimon teachers and students. Zenon’s tour of musical duty here will end with a show at the Givatayim Theater on February 2 (9 p.m.), when he will team up with Rimon faculty members, which include pianist Ronen Shmueli, bass player Yurai Oron and drummer Ronny Holan.

Over the last decade and a half, Zenon has left his highly individual stamp on the global jazz scene, putting 10 albums during that time, the most recent of which, Tipico, came out a few months ago. The CD also features Zenon’s longstanding band members, pianist Luis Perdomo and bassist Hans Glawischnig, with Henry Cole on drums.

Over the years, Zenon has also mixed it with some of the most celebrated members of the international jazz community, such as bassist Charlie Haden, pianists Fred Hersch and Kenny Werner, and fellow reedmen Steve Coleman and David Sanchez. Zenon says that sparring with the aforementioned luminaries was an enlightening and formative experience for him.

“When I started playing this music and started getting into jazz, I basically just wanted to play with people that I admire, my heroes. I really couldn’t ask for anything more. That’s been my school. I went to [formal] school [Berklee College of Music in Boston], but playing with all those guys, that was absolutely my real school, playing with people from an older generation,” he says.

One hero Zenon never got to play with was alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, the founding father of modern jazz. Zenon says he listened to lots of Parker records but never even imagined himself actually playing with the great man, who died in 1955 at the age of just 34.

“I don’t know if I would have played with him – he would have scared me off the stage,” Zenon laughs. “But to this day, he is still my main inspiration.”

Zenon also receiving a significant helping hand along the way from venerated Panamanian-born pianist Danilo Perez, who was on the staff at Berklee when Zenon was a student there. Besides helping the saxophonist to get to grips with the basics of jazz, Perez also opened the door for Zenon to dig back into his own roots and to express his own cultural background instead of just trying to polish his jazz playing skills.

“When I started becoming serious about becoming a jazz musician, I basically just tried to play jazz as well as I could. But after I met people like Danilo, I started thinking about the music I grew up with. Danilo and others were an inspiration for me,” he says.

Over the years, Zenon has spread his sonic wares across ever-widening areas of music. He also notes that the jazz discipline has also flexed its boundaries over the years and is now much more accommodating and eclectic.

“Jazz has become such a global phenomenon. Today you can bring your ideas and your own tradition into the music,” he notes.

While this will be only Zenon’s second visit to these shores – he appeared at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat a couple of years ago – he has been cognizant of the quality of jazz emanating from this country for some time. He came across Israeli saxophonist Anat Cohen and her younger trumpet playing brother Avishai – now the artistic director of the Jerusalem Jazz Festival – as well as the eldest of the feted Cohen siblings, soprano saxophonist Yuval.

“I think I met Anat on my first day at Berklee. We were in the same ensemble together. When I got there, it was my first experience of meeting jazz musicians from all over the world.

I also met [internationally acclaimed saxophonist and current Red Sea Jazz Festival artistic director] Eli Degibri then,” he recounts.

In later years, after moving to New York, Zenon worked quite a bit with trumpeter Avishai Cohen.

“The Israelis were just so good,” Zenon recalls. “I used to joke and ask them what was in the water over there in Israel.”

The reedman’s creative growth also had a longstanding formative berth with the adventurous SF JAZZ Collective, an eight-member jazz group based in San Francisco founded in 2004, where all the players write music for the outfit as well.

“I’ve been with the Collective longer than any other band, other than my own band,” notes Zenon. “It has probably been one of the most important parts of my development in terms of my career and as a musician.”

That 12-year-and-counting stint with the West Coast has proven to be an enduring learning experience for the saxophonist.

“It is a collective, and jazz is meant to be created and played as a group,” he says. “It is so important to listen to others.”

Presumably, Zenon’s young master class and workshop attendees will get that message loud and clear.

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