By Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC
One of the great jazz albums of 2011 is Alma Adentra: The Puerto Rican Songbook. It’s a brilliant idea by acclaimed saxophonist Miguel Zenon to preserve the early 20th century’s jazz heritage of his native Puerto Rico. The album is modeled on The Great American Songbook, which features an entire century of American music from such masters as Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Kern, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bernstein and others. Zenon follows the footsteps of such great American composers and songwriters to offer the jazz public some of the 20th century’s best songs that represent the sounds of Puerto Rico.
“The album is basically a tribute to the Puerto Rican Songbook,” said Zenon in an interview with VOA’s Jazz Beat. “When I started thinking of the relationship that jazz has with The Great American Songbook of Cole Porter, Gershwin, Irving Berlin and all the great composers and how, you know, all this Puerto Rican Songbook in this case could sort of translate in the same way. I thought of exploring it that way and eventually became a recording.”
I talked with Zenon about the album, Alma Adentra: The Puerto Rican Songbook. He said he wanted to bring the music of the great Puerto Rican songs to young people today, hoping to preserve it for future generations. Here’s the interview in full with three newly-arranged songs from The Puerto Rican Songbook.
Zenon’s idea was to take songs written by some of the greatest and most recognized Puerto Rican songwriters and composers in the 20th century from his early childhood, the time of his parents and grandparents, explore those compositions and translate and arrange them into a style he usually performs with his band.
This is the second time Miguel Zenon’s reimagines and rearranges the music of his native Puerto Rico. His 2004 album, Jibaro, was a courageous attempt to reinterpret Puerto Rico’s rural music. The album’s success, along with the Puerto Rican Songbook will become Zenon trademark.
Meanwhile, Jazz made new history in 2011 when jazz singer and bassist Esperanza Spalding was named the year’s Best New Artist at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards. It was the first time ever that a jazz artist won the award.
Jazz Beat’s Artist of the Year:
Jazz Beat’s Activist of the Year: Herbie Hancock. The jazz pianist was “glued” to television, watching live coverage of Tahrir Square protests demand the removal of the regime in Egypt. The world peace advocate praised the peaceful, anti-social injustice protests in Egypt as he attended the Grammy ceremony on February 13; two days after President Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign.
Jazz Beat’s Book of the year:
Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz, by Benjamin Cawthra, charts the development of jazz photography from the swing era of the 1930s to the rise of Black Nationalism and the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America
Happy New Year