USF student jazzes up Latin Grammy Awards

Jose Ruiz was nominated for a Latin Grammy for his album “I Make You Want to Move.” SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Grammy nominations are hard to come by; many artists will never be nominated, let alone win the award. But one USF student has made his way to the top of the music business and has been nominated for a Latin Grammy. 

Jose Ruiz, a Ph.D. candidate in music, with a concentration in education, began working on the skeleton of his album “I Make You Want to Move” in 2008. This year, it will be pitted against four others for a chance to earn him the Latin Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album. 

Ruiz, born in Maryland, traces his roots to Puerto Rico, where he found his love for music at a young age. 

“Going over there to Puerto Rico, music over there is like water, it’s a necessity. Everybody over there, their parents and grandparents play,” Ruiz said. 

While in Puerto Rico, he saw how music brought people together, especially during holidays. He clung to this idea of bridging the gap between individuals and cultures and said it inspires his music to this day. 

As a child, when Ruiz moved from Maryland to Tampa, he picked up the flute at the suggestion of his father, a registered nurse and accomplished musician, and began learning music from USF Associate Professor Kim McCormick. 

Now, on the verge of his 28th birthday, Ruiz has been practicing the flute for nearly 20 years and playing professionally since age 14. 

In addition to the flute, Ruiz said he has broadened his instrumental scope to include keyboard, bass, saxophone and percussion.

He also said he has played his music all over the world including Puerto Rico, Turkey, Spain, Greece, among others, and in venues like Carnegie Hall with 14-time Grammy winner Paquito D’Rivera.

Before graduating high school, Ruiz was offered several scholarships to some of the most well-renowned music schools in the country, but he chose USF for a better-rounded education and initially had interest in majoring in business. After finishing his bachelor’s in music studies, he went to the University of Miami for instrumental performance before returning to USF to pursue his Ph.D.  

Ruiz approaches making music in a unique “jam session” style where he begins with bass and envisions other parts to layer together, bouncing back and forth between playing live instruments and programmed keyboard notes. Piecing a song together can take him as little as an hour.

Ruiz said he holds the record for most DownBeat Student Music Awards, which are given to students from middle school through university level for a variety of music categories, with 34. However, he takes more pride in knowing the two individuals with the second and third most awards are students of his. Ruiz has also composed for Swiffer commercials, and his music has appeared in films that have won the Tribeca Film Festival. 

While the album being considered for a Latin Grammy had its beginnings in 2008, the title track was recorded in two hours, while others took only a couple days. Some of the songs included on the album were started in 2008 but were not finished until the album came out.

“Each song was recorded in no more than two days — an average of two days — so you know that’s pretty awesome, thinking about it like that,” Ruiz said.

He described the album as an exploration and celebration of Latin American cultures with a meshing of styles.

“I Make You Want to Move” was recorded in Ruiz’s bedroom and living room because he wanted complete control over the music being created and lacked the finances to take his music to a major recording studio. 

Others who worked on the album with Ruiz included his sister, a USF alumna who sang for the album. Ruiz’s father produced the album. Giovanni Perez, a student Ruiz met in Puerto Rico at the Conservatory of Music, helped produce the album. Jesse Pitts, whom Ruiz knew from childhood, played drums on the album, and Bruno Miranda, whom Ruiz met through church, worked as an engineer on the album. 

This album was his first submission to the Latin Grammys. He said, if he submits another album, it will be under a different category to showcase just how broad Ruiz’s musical talents extend. 

He would like to share his love and knowledge of music, produce for other artists, score films and teach at the university level. 

“What inspires me is the fact that whatever I do has the potential to inspire other people and uplift people,” Ruiz said.

The Latin Grammys will be held Nov. 19 in Las Vegas. Ruiz would like to attend and is hoping that USF will sponsor the trip for himself and the other USF students involved. 

Ruiz’s album can be found on SoundCloud, iTunes and YouTube.