Someone must say something about the wonderful things the Redwood Jazz Alliance is doing. They are bringing world-class jazz performers to play and teach in our community. Kudos!
Now, Miguel Zenón. On a personal note, I’m not a big modern-jazz buff. I know next to nothing about it. In fact, “Jazz: An American Art Form” is the only music appreciation class I didn’t take at Humboldt State University. I spent a weekend at the Jazz Festival not long ago, but nothing in my sphere of musical experiences prepared me for Miguel Zenón.
It was Monday night. I had gotten home from work and, over much protesting, convinced my husband, Luke, to attend the show with me.
I looked up some of the quartet’s music online. It sounded like a progression of noises; honestly, I was dreading sitting through two hours of it.
We arrive at HSU, the lights dimmed, the band took the stage and my jazz world changed forever.
Watching the musicians’ fingers wildly dance across the instruments or beat the drums left me in awe. Each instrument could be heard and had a role to play. The solos were displays of each musician’s musical prowess and each was impressive. Zenón led the band on tenor saxophone, and when he wasn’t playing, he sauntered behind the drums and watched smugly as his band played the music he had composed for them, taking into account, of course, a dash of improvisation.
Zenón played with fervor; he would bounce his shoulders up and down and sway back and forth while he played. He is native to Puerto Rico, so the compositions had a Latin flair that danced in between jazz notes.
The next day at HSU, Zenón and his band did a free workshop for the community. There, Zenón talked conceptually about the style of jazz they play. “The music we play, I consider jazz music. It comes out of a jazz background,” Zenón told the students and community members. “The feels come from Latin American music.”
He played a straight-blues tune with the band, played it again with the Latin flavor, then played it a third time mixing both straight jazz and Latin flavors.
Zenón talked about how the music they play isn’t meant to be dance music, with the rhythm being constant and central. “It is music that has elements of dance in it, but it’s not necessarily that.”
The members of the quartet are from all over the world and were exposed to music at very young ages. They all speak jazz as a second language. Zenón said that’s why the Latin and afro music comes out into the jazz.
Zenón plays with Luis Perdomo on piano, Henry Cole on drums and Hans Glawischnig on bass.
While at the concert, I became aware of the gentleman behind me hooting and yelping when the music got particularly amazing. At intermission I introduced myself to the enthusiast.
His name was Rondal Snodgrass and he has been a jazz lover for 50 years. “I’ve seen and heard a lot of the great musicians of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s,” he said. “This quartet is a superb blend of the individual instruments; that is very unique.”
Snodgrass said he would call this type of jazz “syncopated progressive jazz.”
When the show was over, my husband and I walked to the car. Luke said, “If you were to ask me how long I’ve been into jazz music, I would say, ‘Two hours.’”