"José has a fire and plays with his heart."
- Hubert Laws
"I have never heard a 17 year old flutist playing like a 54 year old. I know that if I die José will keep up Latin Jazz flute music. I can hear his heart in his music."
- Dave Valentin, Grammy Award Winner
Before reaching the age required to obtain a Florida driver’s permit, José Valentino Ruiz, was playing flute with passion and dexterity. José was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, and lived with his family in Laurel, Maryland during the first eight years of his life prior to moving to Tampa, Florida. Frequent trips with his family to Puerto Rico infused fervor in his soul for his Hispanic heritage and excitement for Latin rhythms. José Valentino values his heritage and refers to Puerto Rico as a place where music is like water; it’s a necessity. As a toddler, while visiting his grandparents, he was very impressed by some of the Island distinctive sounds, particularly: “el gallo” (rooster) and “el coquí” (singing frog). No question that his young ear was detecting nature’s musical notes.
Diligently practicing for hours a day, José honed his skills. He performs as a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist in his concerts bringing art music from around the world to his audiences. José Valentino's primary instrument is the flute. In addition, he plays saxophone, EWI, bass and piano. In his freshman year of high school, José was introduced by his band director to the African-American art form: Jazz, the essence of freedom. The complexity fused with communicative virtuosity is what compelled him to get deep within this music, thus changing his life forever. José is inspired from the innovators such as John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Wayne Shorter to the more recent innovators: Richard Bona, Victor Wooten, Herbie Hancock, Chris Potter, Chris Botti, Terrence Blanchard, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Michael Brecker, etc.
In his performances, José captures the audience’s attention bringing music from all parts of the world and fusing it all together. José has different bands which vary on what the setting is and the musical genres he is asked to perform. "Overall I just want to bring people together with music... it's something that all people of all ages seem to agree on and if I have made someone's day better, I know I'm doing something right.” Some awards and accolades José Valentino has received include: NFAA Merit Award winner, Downbeat Magazine Jazz Soloist Outstanding Performance Award, 1st place award for Film Scoring "Breaking Point", etc. José Valentino has shared the stage and/or opened up for Chick Corea, Aaron Neville, Larry King, Eddie James, Giovanni Hidalgo, John Clayton, Bobby Valentin, Andy Montanez, Domingo Quinones, Roberto Roena, Willi Rosario, Limite 21, Juan Velez, Eric Alexander, Ed Calle, Hubert Laws, Danny Gottlieb, Kenny Drew Jr., John Lamb, Slide Hampton, Rickard Drexler, Akira Tana, Dave Steinmeyer, Pancho Irizarry, Dayve Stewart, Ken Navarro, Jim Walker, Eric Darius, David y Abraham, Voices of Lee, and many more.
We had the opportunity to ask Jose a few questions. Check out his thoughts on developing stage presence, learning to improvise, as well as advice for upcoming flutists.
1. You’ve won multiple awards (19 in total) from Downbeat magazine, including the winner for ‘Jazz Soloist’, ‘Classical Soloist’, ‘Blues/Pop/Rock Soloist’, ‘Latin Group’, “Blues/Pop/Rock Group’, ‘Studio and Live Engineering.’ How does one go about getting chosen for an award such as this? I.e. what is the application process like, how did you hear about it and what kind of competition are you going up against?
There are many competitions that can be discovered online. Certain compositions give out scholarships while others are known for their prestige. I think competitions are great and should be approached in a fun manner. Your musicality is not defined by how many awards you win. Winning an award can help expand your resume and your pedigree in the eyes of certain institutions. If you aspire to reach a level that demands credibility (awards received, published works, and self-produced CD’s), artistry, and pedagogy skills, I would highly recommend entering into as many competitions as possible by submitting your best work. Hopefully, the judges can see and/or hear your work and select you as one of the outstanding students and competitors of today’s music industry!
2. You’ve performed and/or worked with many legendary musicians such as Chick Corea, Aaron Neville, Hubert Laws, Paquito D'Rivera, and Alex Acuña. How did you establish these connections?
Well, I would have to say that when it comes to connections, there are many factors that come into play. Nonetheless, these opportunities began to materialize when I was 14 years old. I was already performing professionally and in the process of recording my first album, "Flute On Fire.” My father, who is an accomplished bassist and percussionist, already knew many musicians in the Tampa Bay area who were passionate and skilled in their craft. His plan was to gather some of these fine and versatile musicians to accompany me for many of my live performances.
Being exposed to so many different genres of music (Latin-Jazz, Classical, World-Fusion, and Funk), my father and I formed a band that could interact well while playing songs that everyone loves. This formula proved to be a success, thus, many doors began to open for us. We played in larger venues such as high profile concerts, jazz festivals, and conventions. It was not long until the word spread about our music and how much fun people were having. Eventually, event coordinators and directors for some of the bigger programs began asking me to open for many headliners and musical icons. This would then lead to having some of these main artists invite me back to play alongside with them as a "guest artist!” I have to say it was pretty nerve racking for me. Nevertheless, I knew what needed to be done. I would always give it my all, be open to any direction the music would go, and have fun!
3. At such a young age, how did you develop such great stage presence?
To be honest with you, it just came naturally. My personality is very care-free, open, and daring. I guess when you implement these qualities on stage you've got a real shot at captivating audiences. Every time I set foot on a platform I consider what my main objectives are: 1) How to interact with the audience. 2) How to play at a high level and still make it comprehensive for the audience. 3) Have contingency plans in the event a factor affecting my control rears in. What seems to happen with most musicians is that they prepare so much that it becomes too much. The result of this is that the musician develops only one way of playing their pieces and end up getting so nervous. They drill themselves saying "It's got to be the right way and there's only one way." These types of musicians stress themselves to a point in which they can't be free to make a personal statement in music. Many times they become focused only on themselves or just one interpretation of a recording they've heard. The danger in this is losing your audience because they are unable to relate to anything performed. Thus, all the hard work becomes vein.
I see music as a language. When I communicate with an individual I don't think about all the grammar. Do you? I do my preparation first. Next, I internalize what I have prepared. In other words, I try to understand the overall idea of a musical piece and what was the intent of the composer (sometimes that composer is yourself). Understanding is the application of wisdom at the right time. Finally, I select out of this toolbox (theory, dexterity, timbre, dynamics, etc.) what I want to use in that very moment. One thing that I consider imperative is what the audience has in mind when they come to see you, the artist. When the audience pays money to see a performer, they are not wanting to hear the instrument. They want to hear the individual behind the instrument and what he/she has to say. For example, most people know what a flute sounds like and what capabilities it has. If you, the artist, are only worried about making sure you get all the technique down, then essentially you are only playing for yourself and maybe a couple of other people who are ready to critique your style. Nonetheless, the vast majority of listeners want the artist to take them to another world. Once we (the artists) tap into that reality, we have now unleashed a world of possibilities within the music, which then translates into a beautiful effect outside mere notes.
4. How would you recommend someone wanting to learn how to improvise when all that is offered in their school is classical music programs?
This is simple. Have you ever thought about how it is that young children can create and imagine new worlds in their minds? How is it that they can have so much fun just by simply believing and being open to their surroundings? Furthermore, think about this...Why is it that as we get older, we seem to lose the ability to believe? A great improviser understands that in order to flow naturally and make it relevant for the listener, one must be able to imagine and execute what they hear in real time. One musician that I admire is saxophonist Dave Liebman. He explained in an interview his concept of "Triple H", Head-Hands-Heart. Liebman explained that all the technique, theory, initial objectives, and creativity start in the head. Then we must be able to execute these things exteriorly; this is using our hands. Finally, in order to play with conviction, one must play from the heart. In other words, find out what the piece means to you and project it out to the audience.
I love Classical music. I've been studying it since I was eight years old. Though, something that I have noticed about the classical curriculum (and unfortunately, even the jazz curriculum at some schools) is that teachers will focus only on the reading (or transcribing for jazz) aspect of music. In turn, students never truly learn how to develop their own approach to music. Instead, they spend years learning the approach of other musicians. I understand that in order for us to know where we are going we first must understand where we came from. I believe also, that if we stay in the past for too long we run the risk of becoming stagnant. We must try new things & be innovative so that years from now people will have something else to feed upon; aside from the greats who have inspired us for hundreds of years.
If an individual wants to learn how to improvise they should first listen to the artists they feel improvise the best. That way they can have a reference in which they love going back to for ideas. Next, try to execute the ideas of others and of your own. Finally, develop confidence, be open and do not be arrogant. No one likes to work with a "know it all". If you want to have the most fun improvising, you are going to want to involve other people. We are all forever students of this universal language called Music! It’s also important to have fun! If you are not having fun when you improvise, then you can be sure others won't be either. Remember, the idea of improvisation is to compose in the moment. That's exciting! If you are able to perform these steps, you are off to an excellent start! Galileo once said, "You cannot teach a person anything, you can only help him/her find it within him/herself."
5. What musician/artist has influenced you the most?
Wow!!! This is a question that could take forever to answer since the list is quite lengthy. Musicians and artists that influence me have to initially move me emotionally, spiritually, and many times physically. Their sound must be captivating to my ears; not necessarily beautiful or clean, but defined in their intent for playing in their specific manner. These artists generally tend to have unique approaches for composing and/or improvisation and yet, they infiltrate the history of their instrument, cultural background, and approaches from predecessors in their music. When I listen to these artists, they come across as educated and cultured individuals that create timeless music. Their playing/singing contains elements of the past, present, and introduce new disciplines that could be studied for the future generations to come.
I try to listen to a wide spectrum of musicians and vocalists. A few of the artists/musicians I’m currently listening to are: Alex Acuna, Abraham Laboriel, Justo Almario, Dafnis Prieto, Miles Davis, Giovanni Hidalgo, Michel Camilo, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Michael Jackson, John Coltrane, Paquito D'Rivera, Yo-Yo Ma, Yellowjackets, Dizzy Gillespie, Danilo Perez, J.S. Bach, W.A. Mozart, Ludwig Beethoven, Brahms, John Mayor, Gustav Mahler, Duke Ellington, Paco DeLucia, Amy Porter, Emmanuel Pahud, Kim McCormick, Charles Mingus, Nathaniel Townsely, Victor Echavarria, Arturo Bermudez, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Victor Wooten, Bela Fleck, Michael Brecker, El Gran Combo, Andy Montanez, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Kim Burrell, Marvin Sapp, Ella Fitzgerald, Mark O’Connor, Richard Bona, Avishai Cohen, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Christian McBride, Kirk Whalum, Juan Luis Guerra, James Newton Howard, and many more.
6. With writing your own music and with elements of improvisation, how does your band approach rehearsals?
Great question! Perhaps my answer may help those aspiring to lead a band of their own and play original material. I first try to hire musicians that I can relate in areas other than music. What else do we have in common? Could it be that we both like to swim or watch NatGeo on television? This sounds a bit odd at first, but it really isn’t! If I lead a band, I want to know who my fellow companions are. What are their interests, their passions, their families, and their views on a wide range of topics. I don’t necessarily have to agree with everything or like everything. That’s the beauty of diversity and individuality.
So, rather than hiring clones of myself, I like and embrace my musicians for who there are. That’s why you may see the following variety in my band: a senior citizen playing bass; a teenager on drums; a thirty year old on keys and a female on percussion; each from a different country. We all have different backgrounds, concepts, and approaches to our instruments but we share a similar macro-approach to music, which is to play music in a very high level skillfully, construct it to be understandable to the audience, and entertaining as well!
Knowing my musicians in this perspective will allow me to write a unique style of music written specifically for these individuals. I now know why each of them play the way they do and why I enjoy their styles. All my musicians are pretty spontaneous on and off the stage, some of us more than others. (Hahaha) But it is that spontaneity in our nature that causes all of our shows to be different every time. So the element of improvisation is always there and can be unleashed at a moment's notice. Improvisation is one thing that I don’t discuss with my band. If they are creative, spontaneous, and disciplined, they will naturally create a fulfilling setting for improvisation and for the overall music.
7. What does a typical practice routine look like for you?
For me, practice is not simply a designated time slot to work out all the technical aspects of playing the flute. Rather, it is a way of life and is constantly in action. What do I mean by that? I’m not so strict when it comes to a specific routine because the routine is changing all the time for me. Due to the types of music I play, the various arenas within the music industry I’m involved in, and the wide audience I desire to reach, I practice in a manner that forces me to be adaptable and prepared for multiple opportunities; whereas most people practice religiously for one specific opportunity.
In today’s society, I find that musicians have to be extra-diverse, super eclectic, and take on the “chameleon’s gift of adaptation” to master various genres of music, ultimately, to gain more opportunities for work: which is certainly a wide concern for a lot of musicians. So, I have constituted different areas in which I practice on a day to day basis: Firstly, Technique: This is the allotted time which I practice on my sound (since it is what people are going to hear first), dexterity on my fingers and tongue, breathing, vibrato, dynamic capability, reading, composing, improvisation, etc. This will give me the facility to articulate whatever message I want to project clearly and effectively. What do I want to say to the audience? That leaves me to the second area, Listening.
I try to listen as much as possible, not just to music, but to every sound provided in nature and in human conversation. Have you ever listened to different languages and observed their way of phrasing sentences, the tempo, the rhythm, the dynamics, the timbre, and the intervals that are generally use to communicate? It’s fascinating to see the incredible similarities between their language and the overall culture. I love learning about cultures and people in general. Expanding my knowledge of people from around the world and their culture gives me the understanding of how to reach people more effectively. Thus, I am able to communicate with a multitude of people emotionally through the power of music. In order for me to reach people in a spiritual level, I now have to tie the 'Heart' (reason) into the 'Hands' (technique) and 'Head' (listening).
This area of practice deals with music in another way. Music transmits who you are to the audience. If you are insecure, you will sound insecure. If you are jolly, you will sound jolly. Discovering your identity, embracing your flaws, and accepting the uniqueness and individuality that you possess as a human being are the initial steps in projecting an intimate connection with the audience. I must first understand who I am in order to then fulfill my purpose; I find that a lot of people do this procedure reversely and never fully understand their Reason for playing music. So I choose to embrace my culture, my faith, my family and friends, my age, my likes/dislikes, my morals, and everything else. These factors will boost the foundation for understanding myself, provide intent for my playing, and give me a substantial message to share with the world.
Truthfully, this is why I say I am constantly practicing. This is not a specific routine, rather, a way of life. Music should inspire people to live, learn, and love. When you can learn to do these steps for yourself in any order, then I believe you have reached a level in which you can be prepared for any musical situation that comes your way!
8.Who are the most played artists on your ipod?
Currently I’ve been listening to some diverse artists: Danilo Perez (Pianist), Danfis Prieto (Percussionist), Nicholas Payton (Trumpeter), Kirk Whalum (Tenor saxophonist), Emanuel Pahud (Flutist), John Mayor (Guitarrist/Vocalist), Andy Montanez (Salsa singer), Miguel Zenon (Alto saxophonist), Nathaniel Townsley (Drummer), Richard Bona (Multi-instrumentalist and Vocalist), and Luciano Pavorotti (Opera Tenor), and Ludwig Beethoven.
9. Do you have any new projects in the works?
Yes, indeed I do. Thankfully I have been establishing a busy and fulfilling career working in the production field. I am currently producing six albums for various singers and musicians based in Tampa, Miami, Puerto Rico, and Orlando. I completed two albums that will be released in the near future: “A Walk With God” and “The Messiah.” Those two projects have received numerous DOWNBEAT Student Awards in Jazz, Classical, Engineering, Latin, and Blues/Pop/Rock categories; a total of nineteen awards.
In addition, I am working on an album for a band that I co-direct, along with my sister (vocalist and percussionist), called “The Crossmatch Vamp.” This is an exciting group that incorporates various styles simultaneously in which each member of the band covers roles that would normally be executed by two or three people. The guitarist, Gualo, has a unique skill to play electric guitar, beatbox, and rap at the same time. The percussionist, Johnathan Hulett, sings and plays the drums, timbales, congas, and left-foot clave all at once. The keyboardist, Robert Gonzalez, sings harmony and juggles between the grand piano, keyboard, and organ surrounding him. The bassist, who happens to be my father, plays a ferocious bass laying down a solid pocket! He switches between fretless, fretted, and upright. My role is to sing, play saxophone, EWI, and flute, and occasionally the bass guitar. Lastly, Christina Valerie is well-versed in gospel, jazz, salsa, world-fusion, and sings in a gorgeous alto register. We sort of mesh rock, hip hop, jazz, latin, world music, reggae, electronic, and classical all into one sound. It’s not a specific genre; It’s simply The Crossmatch Vamp. When the album is released I will be sure to let you know!
10. How did you come to choose Miyazawa as your flute of choice?
I think one of the most difficult times a flutist faces is the decision of investing in one flute that will meet all their needs. Before I came across Miyazawa, I played on an intermediate flute, and naturally outgrew the instrument. Now at the age of 25 and performing professionally, nationally and internationally, I wanted to look for a flute that could assist me in playing at a much higher level. I also wanted to be part of a company that would believe in me as much as I believed in them. Thus, I came across this fascinating company called Miyazawa! Something I should note is that at flute conventions I never spend much time trying different flutes. There are so many companies and so many models, that there was just not enough time for me to narrow down which one would fit me best. On the other hand, Miyazawa flutes were one of the most memorable flutes companies I remembered trying out. I even remember saying to my manager, "That...That...is a flute!"
After playing on the flutes I had sent to me for a trial, I was completely sold. I couldn't stop playing for days! In my humble opinion, Miyazawa designs the best flutes in the world! Miyazawa makes unequaled handmade flutes which allow me to go far beyond any ordinary flute sounds. Ever since then, I have been able to execute ideas, colors, and textures which I believed were only possible in my imagination. The only real way to describe the flute is that it naturally becomes an extension of your body, thus making it all possible to sing your heart out like never before. This flute makes a serious flutist sound outstanding. The resonance is sonorous! I would compare these flutes to a sonic painter with the ability to create a sheet of sound waves that hypnotize the ears. They are incredibly vibrant, flexible in the changes of tone, and most of all...POWERFUL! I feel that the flutes I used to play on had to keep up with me. Now, with a Miyazawa, I certainly have to keep up with it!
11. If you had one piece of advice to give an upcoming flutist, what would you tell them?
You are a special individual with something to say! Embrace the gift that God has given you and don't forget to love; love others and love the music you create. If you do this, you will find yourself on the narrow and glorious road that will lead towards greatness!