Adam Cruz: Making Some Room
Being in New York, he was able to consistently see some of the masters on the instrument and his appreciation for them is still profound. "There's something with the older guys. A way of playing. The touch on the instrument. The sense of swing. I find it has a value that speaks so clearly. Even in more recent years, guys I really cherish being able to hear are Billy Hart, whom I'm glad is playing around New York pretty frequently these days. Paul Motian, who we just lost but who was playing really consistently. Another guy from that generation is Albert 'Tootie' Heath. Hearing him play the cymbal, you're feeling the cymbal that goes back to Kenny Clarke. That's something I find a lot of inspiration and value inhearing these older guys."
Cruz speaks in true awe when he says, "I think about Billy Hart every day. There's something about Billy that's really striking a chord with me. Every time I see him play there's something about the way he manages the expansive amount of tradition that he carries. And the language and vocabulary of the ancestorsthe masterswhile, at the same time, being so uncompromisingly in-the-moment, and a fiercely creative in-the-moment artist. His work speaks so loudly to me these days. I try to go see Billy whenever I can. I go to his house when I get a chance, just to talk with him. He's an encyclopedia of knowledge of jazz drumming, all drumming. He's an inspiration."
He adds, "Roy Haynes is someone I feel lucky to get to see. Tootie Heath. Paul Motian was that, for me, too. Those guys give me a lot of sense of purpose about what I'm doing and something to strive for."
His study of the drums took him to college, where at Rutgers University he was under the tutelage of Keith Copeland. He then attended the New School in New York City and studied with Kenny Washington, Joe Chambers and Victor Lewis. Lewis was playing with the Mingus Big Band at the time, and at one point couldn't make a gig. He recommended Cruz for the spot. "I still play with the Mingus Big Band to this day. Victor made that connection for me back in the early '90s."
"Joe Chambers was great, because he often talked about piano harmony and composition, more often than the drums," recalls Cruz. "Joe was very quiet. He didn't say a lot, but he showed me things. He played vibes and answered my questions about harmony and composition. That was great. Joe is a great musician. I also studied with some Brazilian percussionists, because at that time I got offered doing a gig with Paquito D'Rivera. He's Cuban, but he was playing music from all over Latin America and quite a bit of Brazilian sambas and things. I felt like that was something I wanted a greater understanding of. So I studied with two great Brazilian percussionists, Porthino and Vandalay Hererra."
At Rutgers, meeting David Sánchez from Puerto Rico became an important happenstance. The fine saxophonist was already playing with Eddie Palmieri and Dizzy Gillespie. "We connected at school and he started recommending me to different people in New York, so I started getting calls to play. Mostly at that time it was more Latin jazz. Hilton Ruiz, the pianist, he's the first one I went to Europe with. I met Danilo Pérez through David. Danilo had a sextet. I played in Boston with him. I even played with a salsa singer called Willie Colon. I had to make a choice because Willie was getting busier. There was a conflict with a gig with Danilo and I had to make a choice. I chose to play with Danilo because I felt more of a calling and an affinity to being a jazz musician more than a Latin musician or salsa musician. I was in my early 20s, in the early '90s, when I chose that path."
"In the mid-'90s, when I was finishing school and graduating and being in New York, I was touring with David Sánchez's quartet quite a bit. Also the Mingus Big band. I was doing those two things simultaneously. That and a brief stint with Chick Corea. When I was playing with David we were opening for Chick. Chick called me for the first formation of the band Origin. We made a record and played at the Blue Note and toured a few places. Another great experience was I played in a duo with Charlie Hunter, the guitarist. We toured around for a year-and-a-half playing duo. That was great, being in that pared-down situation."
After 2000, playing with Pérez became his main work. He was influenced in many ways and it has helped shape some of his own compositions. It's a musical association that remains and he will be doing gigs with Pérez this year, as well as performances with Patitucci. There will be other sideman work as well.