José Valentino Ruiz, a Grammy Award-winning artist and a recognized name in the music industry, will perform at the Uptown Music & Arts Festival in Tampa during Memorial Day weekend.

In an exclusive interview, Valentino Ruiz discussed his love of music, inspiration, achievements, and desire to connect communities through his art.

The Puerto Rican descendant has built his career over the years by masterfully blending musical genres that reflect his deep Latin roots and extensive artistic experience. His repertoire will span styles like jazz, classical music, Christian music, and Latin folklore, offering a performance that promises to be a journey through the sounds that define his musical identity.

Born in Silver Spring, Maryland, but raised in Tampa, the musician has passionately embraced Latin culture, taking it to world-renowned stages like Carnegie Hall. His unwavering commitment to excellence has propelled him to a professional level that serves as a reference for the industry based on the musical rhythms he has chosen to explore. Over his career, he has collaborated with musicians such as Chick Corea, Paquito D’Rivera, and Marcos Witt, which has enriched his artistic background and established his position as a cultural ambassador of Latin American music.

This event in Tampa represents a special opportunity for Valentino Ruiz to give back to the community that saw him grow. Besides his impactful career as a musician, he is also a strong advocate for music education and entrepreneurship, concepts intertwined with his mission to share the joy and values of Latin music.

A Journey of Inspiration

The artist shared that his musical inspiration comes from his roots, family experiences in Tampa, and Puerto Rican traditions. “My dad is a bassist; they would play at home, in church, and during trips to Puerto Rico for parrandas. That festive environment was precisely what inspired me to become a musician,” he said. “Music has the power to bring people together. Seeing people in the neighborhood gather to celebrate, setting aside cultural or socioeconomic differences, showed me music’s ability to unite.”

These childhood experiences deeply influenced him and guided him on a path where the bass, flute, and saxophone became natural extensions of his artistic voice. He promises a performance that captures the multicultural essence of his art, inspiring and uplifting his audience.

With tireless dedication and disciplined focus, he has refined his musical skills over the years. During his studies, and later at the University of South Florida, he found mentors who guided his passion and motivated him to explore new forms of musical expression. At USF, he earned a bachelor’s degree in music theory, a doctorate in music education, and currently serves as a professor in the music department.

These academic achievements, combined with his innate creativity, propelled him to embark on a career that has taken him to over 1,400 concerts and the production of more than 140 albums.

His Journey at the Grammy Awards

On November 19, 2020, the Latin Recording Academy announced the winners of the 21st Latin Grammy Awards. Valentino Ruiz was among those receiving awards, winning the Best Contemporary Classical Composition award for “Sacre.” This composition, created with Carlos Fernando López, reflects a sonic vision of cultural diversity, inclusion, and equity through the dialogue between piano and flute. Ruiz, a USF graduate, had previously been nominated for several Latin Grammy categories, solidifying his name as one of the most outstanding composers and performers of his generation.

“Sacre” invites listeners to embark on a journey through the human experience, exploring cultural diversity and inclusion. Musically, the composition intertwines the harmonies and rhythms characteristic of European Impressionism with Afro-Latin American polyrhythm and indigenous textures in the flute, evoking traditional instruments like the zampona, quena, and coquí. Regarding the piece’s meaning, Valentino Ruiz explained, “In just over five minutes, we wanted to offer a chronological map of the human condition, reflecting sacredness from birth to the emotional discovery of the world.” The interaction between the piano and the flute narrates this journey, conveying the beauty and turbulence of life.

The piece had a special purpose during those times of global uncertainty marked by COVID-19 and the growing cry against racial injustice. “Sacre” seeks to touch humanity’s heart and inspire listeners to reevaluate what they consider sacred and protect the meaning of being human, loving, and respecting diversity in our daily lives. “The sacred is omnipresent and must be preserved, not abolished,” Valentino Ruiz said.

Besides his Grammy success, Valentino Ruiz has also been recognized with an Emmy as a television composer, and his dedication to teaching led him to found the Music Business & Entrepreneurship program at the University of Florida. As a global ambassador for Trevor James Flutes and Saxophones and the Director of Global Artistic Entrepreneurship Initiatives at the Diaz Music Institute, he continues to promote cultural dialogue through music.

The Tampa Phenomenon

With over 50 concerts scheduled across different venues in the Tampa Bay area by singers and music stars, Valentino Ruiz emphasizes that Tampa has established itself as a musical powerhouse thanks to its diverse scene. In his view, the city has attracted the attention of both emerging and renowned artists, who see its audience as an inexhaustible source of support and enthusiasm. “Tampa is amazing; what’s happening here is extraordinary. We are an incredible community full of many cultures and musical influences that converge uniquely,” he said, noting that this collective energy is reflected in the remarkable variety of styles and rhythms flourishing on local bay area stages.

This diversity has allowed Latin musicians and those from other communities to collaborate, creating a conglomerate of creative pieces that position the city as a cultural hub in the southern United States.

Likewise, the artist highlights the professional quality of Latin musicians in Tampa, who have been widely recognized for their adaptability to new styles amid the community’s steady growth. This has led many local artists to participate in projects that transcend borders, from international tours to high-level productions with music greats.

“Tampa has torn down barriers and rivalries, fostering a mentality of mutual celebration. Musicians here don’t compete with each other; they celebrate their peers’ victories,” he said. For him, this not only helps unite the artistic community, but also motivates artists to create music that reflects the locality’s cultural richness.

In his experience, this unique environment has opened doors for local musicians to develop their art authentically, allowing area residents to stand out in genres as diverse as jazz, rock, salsa, and gospel. The openness and desire to innovate have turned the city into a hotbed of talent and opportunities.

As Tampa continues to position itself as a preferred destination for concerts and festivals, Valentino Ruiz highlights the importance of supporting the local scene.

“In Tampa, we need more recording studios, more Latin festivals, more rehearsal spaces for those who want to explore music from a young age. But most importantly, we must overcome our fears. When you overcome your fear and fill yourself with the desire to pursue your dreams, you have everything,” he said.

He believes that with community support, local artists can take Tampa’s music to the next level, demonstrating to the world that the people of Tampa have what it takes and play a vital role in the global music scene.

Valentino Ruiz concludes with a message of inspiration and gratitude to his audience, the Tampa community, and emerging musicians. “The most important thing is never to lose sight of the purpose that drives us,” he says confidently. “Music is a medium to connect, inspire, and bring hope. If you can keep that passion and sense of mission, you’ll find your own voice, and, most importantly, use it to contribute positively to the world.”

Finally, he thanked the continuous support from the community that has propelled him throughout his career. “I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received, and I want to give back by supporting other musicians to pursue their dreams and join this wonderful mission of bringing music to every corner.”

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