Miguel Zenón Named the 2023 Ken Pullig Visiting Scholar in Jazz Studies

The Guggenheim and MacArthur fellow will give master classes, lead an ensemble, and work with jazz composition students.

May 31, 2023

Distinguished saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón B.M. '98 will join Berklee's Harmony and Jazz Composition Department as the Ken Pullig Visiting Scholar in Jazz Studies during the 2023–2024 academic year. Zenón is the second musician to be invited to hold the position, which was established in honor of Ken Pullig, a former chair of jazz composition who retired in 2012 after leading the department for more than 30 years.

"We are beyond thrilled to have Miguel Zenón join the Berklee community this fall. His passion, love, and respect for music envelops his mind, body, and spirit. It is our expectation that he will inspire our students to take on these same attributes,” says George W. Russell Jr., chair of the Harmony and Jazz Composition Department. 

As a visiting scholar, Zenón will be in residence for one week each month throughout the academic year, working with advanced jazz composition students and offering his perspective on their work. In addition, he will be coaching a student ensemble, working with faculty, and offering master classes open to the entire Berklee community.

"I’m excited and honored about this upcoming residency at my alma mater, Berklee College of Music,” adds Zenón. “I know it will be amazing and I can’t wait to get started.”

In a career spanning 25 years, Zenón has released 15 recordings as a leader, including the Grammy Award–nominated albums Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera (2019), Yo Soy La Tradición (2018), and Típico (2017). His latest work, Música De Las Américas, released in 2022, features original music inspired by his passion for the history of the American continent. The record pays tribute to America’s diverse cultures while also challenging modern assumptions about who and what “America” is.

“It is exciting to have Miguel Zenón return to Berklee in this capacity. His music offers a fresh and modern perspective to our community and he is regarded as a cultural ambassador,” says Ayn Inserto, assistant chair of the Harmony and Jazz Composition Department. “As the MacArthur Foundation states, '[he is] reestablishing the artistic, cultural, and social tradition of jazz while creating an entirely new jazz language for the 21st century.'"

About Miguel Zenón

Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Zenón represents a select group of musicians who have balanced and blended the often contradictory poles of innovation and tradition. Widely considered one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists and composers of his generation, he has also developed a unique voice as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between jazz and his many musical influences. As a composer, he has been commissioned by SFJAZZ, the New York State Council for the Arts, Chamber Music America, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, the Hewlett Foundation, and many of his peers. He has given hundreds of lectures and master classes at institutions all over the world and is currently a faculty member in MIT's Music and Theater Arts Department.

The multiple Grammy nominee has been featured in publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and Chicago Tribune. In addition, he topped both the Jazz Artist of the Year and Alto Saxophonist categories on the 2014 Jazz Times Critics Poll, and was selected as the Alto Saxophonist of the Year by the Jazz Journalist Association in 2015, 2018, 2019, and 2020 (when he was also recognized as Arranger of The Year). In 2023, he was recognized by the same organization as Composer of the Year.

In April 2008, Zenón received a fellowship from the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Later that year he was one of 25 distinguished individuals chosen to receive the coveted MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant.” In 2011, he founded Caravana Cultural, a program which presents free-of-charge jazz concerts in rural areas of Puerto Rico. In 2022 he received an honorary doctorate from La Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the highest honor bestowed by the institution.