Home Profiles Pianist, Violist, Composer, Arranger Aruán Ortiz

Pianist, Violist, Composer, Arranger Aruán Ortiz

Pianist, violist, and composer Aruán Ortiz – born in Santiago de Cuba and a resident of Brooklyn – has been an active figure in the progressive jazz and avant-garde scene in the US for more than 15 years.
Named “one of the most creative and original composers in the world” (Lynn René Bayley, The Art Music Lounge), he has written music for jazz ensembles, orchestras, dance companies, chamber groups, and feature films, incorporating influences from contemporary classical music, Cuban Haitian rhythms, and avant-garde improvisation. Aruán consistently strives to break stylistic musical boundaries.
Since he arrived in the United States, Aruán has played, toured, or recorded with jazz luminaries such as Wadada Leo Smith, Don Byron, Greg Osby, Wallace Roney, Nicole Mitchell, Cameron Brown, Michael Formanek, William Parker, Adam Rudolph, Andrew Cyrille, Henry Grimes, Marshall Allen, Hamiet Bluiett, Oliver Lake, Rufus Reid, Graham Haynes, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Nasheet Waits. He has also collaborated with choreographers José Mateo, Danis Mora, and Milena Zullo; filmmakers Ben Chace, Mariona Lloreta, and Mónica Rovira; poets Abiodun Oyewole from The Last Poets; writer/poet/filmmaker Mtume Gant; DJ Logic and Val Jeanty Inc.; and renowned German writers Angelika Hentschel and Anna Breitenbach. 
Aruán has received numerous accolades, including the Composer Fellowship Award at Vermont College of Fine Arts (2016); the Doris Duke Impact Award (2014); the Composers Now Creative Residency at Pocantico Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (2014); the Jerome Foundation Travel & Study Grant (2013); Latin Jazz Corner’s Arranger of the Year (2011) for his contribution on the album, “El Cumbanchero” by flutist Mark Weinstein (Jazzheads, 2011); Fundación Autor, SGAE, and Generalitat de Catalunya study grants (2002); Semifinalist, Jas Hennessy Piano Solo Competition, Montreux, Switzerland (2001); and Best Jazz Interpretation, Festival de Jazz in Vic, Spain (2000).
He also performed on Grammy Award-winning singer/bassist Esperanza Spalding’s trio debut album, “Junjo” (Ayva Música, 2006). All About Jazz said, “The trio has…splendid flashes of precision from pianist Aruán Ortiz who is excellent throughout.”
His 2010 album “Alameda” (Fresh Sound New Talent), which combines modern jazz, contemporary classical music, and Afro-Cuban rhythms, received four stars from the UK-based magazine Jazzwise and was named one of the top ten jazz CDs of the year. In response to the quartet’s second album, “Orbiting” (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2012), DownBeat magazine called Aruán “…one of the most versatile and exciting pianists of his generation.” The album also received four stars from Jazzwise Magazine and Jazz Journal in the UK. It was chosen as one of the top ten contemporary jazz albums of 2012 by Something Else! Webzine.
Aruán’s work consolidates intense research and development on specific themes related to architectural patterns and information drawn from non-musical contexts. Inspired by Afro-Haitian traditions and how those traditions can be expressed through multiple genres, Aruán’s music channels his sound through avant-garde and progressive jazz, serial music, and contemporary classical language, focusing on decentralized roles and multiples themes and interacting collectively in ways similar to a string quartet.
His unique musical vision has been covered in magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US, including Jazz ‘n’ More (Switzerland), The Guardian (UK), Expresso (Portugal), The New York TimesDownBeatJazzTimes, Jazziz, The Boston Globe, Chicago Jazz MagazineSan Diego Union-Tribune, and All About Jazz (US), Jazzpodium (Germany), Musica JazzIl Muro MagazineIl Corriere della Sera and Jazz Convention (Italy), The Ottawa Citizen (Canada), The Irish Times (Ireland), and Way Out West (Japan), among many others.
In 2013, Aruán collaborated with the New York-based presenter Revive Music to produce and curate Music & Architecture, a series of concerts featuring some of the most legendary, forward-thinking, and creative improvisers on the New York scene. These concerts, inspired by Iannis Xenakis’s book “Music and Architecture,” were focused on translating patterns, symbols, and structures related to serialism and expressionism in contemporary music but unusual to jazz improvisation. After the success of this series, journalist Tomas Pena stated, “…The music evoked images of mathematical equations, great architectural works and brought to mind the New York loft scene of the 1970s, where free jazz reigned supreme.” 
Aruán’s artistic curiosity has led to projects beyond the jazz landscape. He received a commission from the José Mateo Ballet Theater on their 25th anniversary to compose the score for a new choreographic work, “Pagano or No.” This score, heralded as “one of the most significant works of music” by Latin Jazz Network, was recorded on the album Santiarican Blues Suite released by Sunnyside Records in 2012 and premiered by the Camerata Urbana Ensemble at the Next Wave Festival at BAM in New York. In 2013, Aruán wrote “Collage,” an original piece for the ballet commissioned by the YOUME Orchestra. This piece was premiered at the Casa del Jazz Festival in Rome, Italy, by the YOUME Orchestra, conducted by Aruán with choreography by the Milena Zullo Ballet. The same year, Aruán was invited by the University of Albany to conduct “Variations,” a free improvisation piece for Orchestra and prepared piano, performed by The University-Community Symphony Orchestra and pianist Bob Gluck.
He holds an MFA in Music Composition from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. As a composer, his growing portfolio includes works such as Two Short Stories for String Quartet performed by Secret String Quartet and New MUSE String Quartet, Pandemonium in Clave for percussion trio and piano premiered by Talujon Percussion Ensemble, Ogguere (when the soul of the earth dances around spectral motions) for brass quintet premiered by Brooklyn Brass, and the upcoming Hints of Leguedé for Solo Flute, and Afro-Haitian Living in a Twisted Globe for violin, cello and piano trio, premiered on February 8th, 2018.
His most recent albums released by Intakt Records have received five stars from prestigious jazz magazines such as Jazziz and DownBeatHidden Voices (2016) was lauded as “a solid and unique new sound in today’s jazz world” by Matthew Fiander in PopMatters. Furthermore, his solo piano effort Cub(an)ism (2017) was called “a genius exercise in the exploration of depth and perception that reveals a bright new wrinkle in the relationship between music and mathematics, reimagining Afro-Haitian Gaga rhythms, Afro-Cuban rumba, and Yambú into heavily improvised meditations on modernism that recall John Cage and Paul Bley. Stunning.” (Ron Hart, The Observer).
In 2014, Aruán composed the score for the feature film “Sin Alas,” the first American movie filmed on Cuban soil in 50 years. This film was nominated by the Curaçao Film Festival for the Yellow Robin Award in 2015. Aruán’s work will also be heard in the Spanish short film “The Beating.”
He has been invited as a visiting artist to perform and teach at Longy School of Music, Cambridge, MA (2006 and 2007); Tanglewood, MA (2006); Royal Academy of Music (2011) and Trinity College (2012) in London; Campus Artístico Can Geli, Girona (2013); Percento Musica, Rome (2011, 2012); Scuola Popolare di Musica, Fermo, Italy (2012); Krakow Jazz School (2014); Institut Musical of Formation Professionnelle, Provence, France (2014); University of Jalapa, Mexico (2013); Jazz Academy Novi Sad, Serbia (2013); Long Island University, NYC (2014); the University of Albany, (2012 -2013); California Jazz Conservatory, Berkeley (2014); and Brookhaven College School of the Arts, Dallas, (2014), among many others. He has taught at Berklee College of Music and Queens College CUNY.
Aruán’s most recent tour de force is SERRANIAS, SKETCHBOOK FOR PIANO TRIO with bassist BRAD JONES AND drummer JOHN BETSCH (INTAKT RECORDS).


Tomas Peña
A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Editor-in-Chief Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject. His writing appears on Latin Jazz Network; Chamber Music America magazine and numerous other publications.


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