By Howard Reich
The exceptional alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon didn't talk much about his Puerto Rican heritage after he moved to New York at age 19.
Though the musical impulses and folkloric traditions of his homeland long have coursed through his art — winning him a richly deserved MacArthur Fellowship in 2008 — it wasn't until recent years that he began addressing the subject of his identity head-on in words as well as music.
To create his 2014 album "Identities Are Changeable," Zenon interviewed several Puerto Ricans living in New York, then wove snippets of their dialogue into a complex and lustrous original score for large jazz ensemble. As striking as that album was, however, it couldn't fully express the depth of Zenon's investigations, since listeners heard but brief interview fragments amid a swirl of music-making.
For the first time, however, Chicago will get to take the full measure of this project, when Zenon presents a multimedia staging of "Identities Are Changeable" on May 26 at the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts. The performance — which will feature Zenon leading a jazz orchestra — will include video of Zenon's interviews, making it possible for the formidable musician (and emerging ethno-sociologist) to illuminate a subject of increasing importance to him.
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