Gator Nation News

Most intimidating celebrity? Biggest change coming in the music industry?

Which city has the best airport? And 17 other questions – silly to serious – with a Grammy winner and UF instructor.

“The best part of working here is the collegiality of the faculty and the genuine dedication of the students,” says José Valentino Ruiz, with UF President Kent Fuchs.

20 Questions with: José Valentino Ruiz
Assistant Professor, UF School of Music, where, among other duties, he’s the head of Music Business & Entrepreneurship

In a field full of talented musicians, electrifying performers, creative producers, successful entrepreneurs and inspiring teachers, few people can be called all of those.

José Valentino Ruiz – player of the flute, saxophone, bass, piano and Latin percussion; recording engineer and featured artist for a Latin Grammy Award-winning album and three-time nominee for Best Jazz Album, Best Instrumental Album and Classical Contemporary Composition; Emmy Award-winning television music producer for Best Cultural Documentary; 52-time DownBeat music award winner (record holder), Sony Music recording artist with 72 albums and over 1,300 performances to his credit; and more – started performing professionally at 14.

With his father as bassist and manager, his José Valentino Band played at weddings, Sweet 16s, corporate functions, quinceañeras, local and regional jazz festivals, and restaurants in and around his hometown of Tampa. “I could gig Friday through Sundays if I kept up my grades,” says Ruiz, who went on to earn four degrees, including a doctorate in music, and has shared the stage with the likes of Chick Corea, Jim Walker, Aaron Neville and Poncho Sanchez.

He loves his job of equipping UF students for the ever-evolving music industry, and he shares his knowledge far beyond Gainesville. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, he’s presented at 13 universities on “Entrepreneurial Suggestions for Creative Professionals amidst COVID-19.”

“The global pandemic has changed many ways for delivering music-centric products and services, and it caused us to retreat to the ‘roots’ of what makes the field of music so special,” he says. “We must all continue to grow, search, discover and share the knowledge.”

He took time to answer 20 questions for Gator Nation News.

– Nicole Neal

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What did you want to be when you were 10?
A balance of all of these careers: architect, martial arts actor, video game designer, musician, doctor and a superhero of a real Avenger-like organization.
What was your first concert, and how old were you?
My first concert that I can remember was the one that I participated in at church. It was called “The Church Mouse Choir.” I probably was 5 years old.
The first album in your life?
My mother gave me a cassette, “Nu Thang” by DC Talk, when they were a hip-hop trio before switching up their musical sound. It was so much fun to hear the sonic textures, electric lyricism and delivery, and great use of music technology at the time. My second and third albums were “Chick Corea Akoustic Band” and “Backstreet Boys: Millennium.”
The best advice you’ve ever received?
Family first.
Your go-to snack food?
Chips with hummus.
Favorite place to travel?
I love Paris, but there is something about going to my family’s place of origin, Puerto Rico. There is so much wonder in the small island: the people, the music, the food, the agriculture, the talent, the history, the nature, the innovations, the intercultural educational offerings, the versatility, the parties and festivities, and the resilience. I love Puerto Rico!
You’ve performed in over 1,300 concerts. What city has the best airport?
I can honestly say that after traveling to numerous countries on five different continents, to this day, I think the Tampa International Airport is so peaceful!

Ruiz has several Grammy wins and nominations to his credit. He has co-composed a piece with his friend, Carlos Fernando López, called “Sacre,” which is nominated for this year’s 21st Annual Latin Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. “The piece of music touches on the importance for humanity to think about our values and to preserve the wonders of who we are,” says Ruiz.

Window or aisle?
Aisle. But I prefer window than the middle. I don’t like being sandwiched up.
Are you a morning or night person?
A night person, considering that I’m most alert and musically creative around 11 p.m.
Who, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Hugh Jackman. He is among the most gifted entertainers and communicators of Hollywood – an extraordinary actor, musician, dancer and storyteller, from what I have observed and seen live at his touring show, "The Man. The Music. The Show."
iPhone or Android?
C’mon now! iPhone.
You’ve met a lot of celebrities – Celine Dion, Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Zoe Zaldaña and many more. Who has left you a little starstruck?
The one person who always gets me just a tad nervous is Jim Walker. He is a legendary musician in the classical, jazz and film music industries. Walker is a powerhouse educator. His experience and contributions to the field of music and education outweigh what I could ever achieve. He is also a true gentleman – classy, poised, professional and the best flutist in the world.
When you’re not teaching, composing and performing, what do you enjoy doing?
I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my beloved wife and amazing 2-year-old son. Both of them light up my world and give me a sense of balance and peace. I love chatting with my friends and catching up on life. Often, we crack up so hard that it feels like I’m at a comedy club. I am a sucker for classic adventure/puzzle video games from my childhood, and so every once in a while, I play remakes of Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot and Sonic the Hedgehog. Living here in Gainesville is nice because of the weather and trees; I enjoy going on power walks with my Bose Bluetooth headphones and catching up with friends via phone call.

A favorite activity for Ruiz: spending time with his wife, Cortney, and their 2-year-old son, Luca.

If you could give just one piece of advice to all UF students, what would it be?
Seek those who will be honest with you and tell you what you need to hear as opposed to what you want to hear.
Would you rather (safely and temporarily!) travel 1,000 years into the past or 1,000 years into the future?
Future. I hope people will not have lost their sense of humanity. And if I could get a VIP pass to visit ancient Egypt, that would be neat!"
What is a favorite saying or phrase?
“In a world without limitations or fears, what is your dream?”
If a movie was made about you, what would the title be and who would play in the starring role?
“A Friend of Friends: A Story About Someone Who Cared,” starring Shia LaBeouf.
What is the most significant development you see coming out of your professional area in the next 5 (or 10 or 20) years?
I see digital concert performances and productions being much more polished, accessible, doable (from the performer-producers' standpoint) and viable financially. It’s important to innovate technically.
Do you have a lucky charm or ritual before big events?
Every time I am about to perform, the butterflies start flapping their wings profusely. So right before I get on that stage or teach a class, I pray to God for clarity of thought, for my music to resonate with listeners' souls or for my teaching to be impactful, and for us all to walk away more inspired.
What has surprised you about your life?
My wife. She has surpassed every expectation I had of what an amazing person really is. Every day I wake more in love with her.