A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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Saxophonists Miguel Zenón and Mario Castro return to the Gallery stage this Thursday, August 7th, 2014, for the third of four installments of The Jazz Gallery Mentoring Series, Vol. 1, Edition 2. Their final performance in the series will take place next Thursday, August 14th, 2014.

We’ve already posted the first half of our conversation with Miguel and our conversation with Mario; here’s the second half of our conversation with Miguel:

The Jazz Gallery: When you work with younger musicians, what do you hope to impart to them? 

Miguel Zenón: In terms of teaching, I see myself as someone who’s had specific experiences and has a specific point of view about a lot of things. It’s not necessarily something that’s right or wrong—it’s what I could share, so when I’m working with younger musicians, I’ll share what I feel has worked for me. But, at the same time, I feel that music education and jazz education in general is still a great platform for acquiring information, especially in this age when there’s so much information out there and so much stuff that you can work on.

If you think about 50 years ago when Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker were working on their stuff, their process had to be totally different. They didn’t sit in a classroom listening to somebody teach them harmony; they had to figure it out on their own or in a community. Today it’s a lot more like you feed yourself information and hope that you find opportunities to put it into practice. It’s not replaceable, though, with experience on the bandstand, getting to play and getting experiences with older musicians, going through struggles on the bandstand—like real-life musical situations that you’re not going to get in school.

In school you’re comfortable: you’re in a combo with people who listen to the same records, you do concerts, and it’s really good. But, at the same time, I think it’s important for younger students and musicians to know that the eventual reality is going to be different. When you’re not in school you’re going to have to deal with responsibilities on your own and not just as an assignment, or get better because you have a test. It has to become a lifelong thing where you’re committed to getting better.

At the same time there’s all this stuff connected to being an artist. This is how you’re going to make a living, so you have to be on top of that: you have to know how things work, you experience situations where you’re going to have to say, “Okay, this is my job. I’m going to have to take this seriously from that point of view, also,” and, to tell you the truth, I wish it wasn’t like that.

When we started playing music, we played it because we liked it and we were in love with the music; it didn’t have to do with how much we were going to get paid, but eventually, because it becomes your line of work, you have to consider that, also.

TJG: Could you say a bit more about the importance of learning in the context of a community? 

MZ: You know, I’ve had experiences both in school and outside of school where musicians go out of their way, be it myself or another musician, and reaches out to me and says, “Hey, man, let’s get together and see what you’re working on. Let’s get together and listen to records. Let’s learn tunes together.” I feel like that’s one of the greatest things about being part of a community—just being able to learn together and learn from each other.

A lot of times when you have all this information out there, it’s easy to say, “I got it. I got all the records, all the books. I’ll go into the cabin for a year and I’ll be cool,” but this music is not just about one person. You’re making music with other people and eventually that’s what you’re trying to get better at. You’re trying to find an avenue where you can put all this information and make it make sense musically with other people.

I could go in and play all this badass stuff I practice at home, and it might be totally out of context or sound totally awful depending on how they’re playing or reacting to it. I have a lot of opportunities in New York—I mentioned guys like David or eventually guys like Steve Coleman who’s really into getting together and sharing—so if I was curious about something I’d say, “Hey, man, could we get together and play?”

I feel like a lot of that in many ways is almost like the next level from that school vibe, where everybody’s working on something and you get together and practice and work on your scales. I remember being here and going out to hear whoever—Seamus Blake or Mark Turner or somebody I admire—and just asking him, “Man, how do you do this?” and we would get together and play and it’d be cool, for the sake of learning—not for the sake of getting a gig, but just for the sake of getting better.

TJG: What are you looking forward to most about participating in the Mentoring Series? 

MZ: A few things: I’m excited about the opportunity to play with Mario and to provide a platform for him to get more people to hear him—especially since he was in Boston for a long time and he’s new in town. There are a lot of people who don’t know who he is or haven’t had the opportunity to hear him. He’s a great musician and sax player and has a great future ahead of him.

I’m also conscious about the fact that as a Latin-American musician and Puerto-Rican musician there’s a responsibility that lies on me to pass knowledge onto younger generations and open up doors for younger generations. One of the main reasons why I wanted to make these concerts and make this band—these sort of all-Puerto Rican bands—is because I feel that somebody like Mario wouldn’t get a lot of opportunities to play at venues like The Jazz Gallery unless there were things like this, so this is important.

If it’s something that you can control to make those situations happen, then why not, especially for these situations where we’ll be balancing out original music and some older music: some Lee Konitz, some Warne Marsh, some Ornette, and some standards. We’re using these concerts as opportunities to go in and play instead of it being a composer’s workshop sort of thing, but, at the same time, I feel that it’s important as a platform for these younger musicians.

Miguel Zenón & Mario Castro perform at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, August 7th, 2014. The band features Zenón on alto saxophone, Castro on tenor saxophone, Ricky Rodriguez on bass, and Henry Cole on drums. Sets are at 9 and 11 p.m. $15 general admission, $10 for Members, and free for SummerPass HoldersPurchase tickets here.