Miguel Zenon world premiere

Chicago Tribune

by Howard Reich

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival commissioned alto saxophonist and MacArthur Fellowship winner Miguel Zenon to create a work he could perform with Chicago's Spektral Quartet.

The world premiere of "Yo Soy La Tradicion" ("I Am Tradition") will start at 7:15 p.m. Saturday at the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts.

"I've been exploring certain musical and cultural traditions that are connected to the rural areas of the island," says Zenon, in an email, in explaining the origins of a piece inspired by his native Puerto Rico.

"Some (sources) are specifically music — 'Rosario Cantado,' for example, is a musicalized version of the 'Holy Rosary,' which varies greatly depending on the town or area where it takes place. And others involve music but are more general — 'Promesa de Reyes,' for example, is a tradition that has to do with making a specific promise to the 'Three Kings' in return for a specific thing: curing a sickness, solving a problem., etc. … I've been researching a lot of these traditions for a while, and a lot of this went into the music for this commission. "

But this time Zenon will be on stage with a string quartet and minus drums, bass and other key elements of jazz performance.

"The challenging thing for me is that everything had to be written down, which is not something I'm used to as a composer," writes Zenon. "If I'm working with a jazz rhythm section, I will generally write a part that serves as a guideline for them, and they'll improvise a lot of what they play using that.

"For this commission everything has to be written very specifically: articulation, dynamics, everything that happens under improvised sections," adds Zenon, referring to solos he will invent on the spot.

"So it took more time from my part to put the whole thing together."

We'll soon hear the results.

The Hyde Park Jazz Festival runs from 1 p.m. to midnight Saturday across Hyde Park and from 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday on the Midway Plaisance; for details, visit www.hydeparkjazzfestival.org.