Alto saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón is one of twenty-five winners of 2008 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowships. The grants were announced today. Each of the awards is for $500,000 over five years, to be used in any way the recipient decides. Although not officially described as “genius grants” by the MacArthur foundation, that is what the fellowships have come to be called.
This year’s fellows include writers, scientists, an architect, a farmer, and artists in various fields. Zenón was cited for “drawing from a variety of jazz idioms and the indigenous music of his native Puerto Rico to create a new language of complex, yet accessible sounds that overflow with emotion.”
For a Rifftides review of Zenón’s most recent recording, go here. In the video below, Zenón is with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole playing for a good-natured New York audience.
Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, was chosen by MacArthur for “offering both highly specialized and casual readers new ways of thinking about the music of the past and its place in our future.” Ross has a first-class blog called The Rest Is Noise.
For biographical sketches and photographs of all twenty-five MacArthur fellows, go here. If you are interested in applying for one of next year’s grants, forget it. Candidates don’t know that they are in the running. They are chosen in secret by a committee whose members’ identities are also secret. Some years ago when I had business at the MacArthur Foundation headquarters in Chicago, I jokingly offered to fill out an application. The executive director said he would be glad to put me on a list of those to be notified when they are not chosen.