By Ross Hammond for Tom Tom Magazine
Vanessa Cruz drums. This is different than playing the drums. “Playing” the drums infers a hobby. Like playing shuffleboard, Jenga or crossword puzzles. Vanessa Cruz doesn’t “play” drums, she is drums. When she gets behind the drumset the music takes over and Vanessa is deep into a musical dialogue with her kit by living the music and being the music. This is not something that happens to many musicians. Vanessa owns the instrument in a way that it is her life’s work, and any time she drums it’s with intent and purpose.
“Vanessa Cruz has a fire burns hot. She raises the energy of the music every time she plays,” said Byron Colburn, baritone sax player for Element Brass Band.
A graduate of the New School in New York, she has become one of the most in-demand drummers in Sacramento. That, combined with frequent visits to New York, make her a perfect candidate for a new bi-coastal jazz force.
“Vanessa plays with a fire and passion that can be felt by every musician and person in the room. I go to see her play every chance I get,” said drummer Alex Jenkins.
I first saw Vanessa play after she moved to Sacramento. This was maybe summer of 2009. She was playing behind the Harley White Jr. Orchestra, and after a few numbers it was evident that she meant business behind the kit. After a few more songs, as well as a memorable drum solo, it was clear we had a new force out West. I saw Vanessa here and there for the next year or so, sharing different bills or catching bands that she happened to play with. As a professional jazz musician, chances were good that a trip to see a band play would mean Vanessa would be on the drum throne.
“Vanessa Cruz is a very capable drummer of the Jazz idiom. A nice combination of power & finesse,” said pianist Clark Goodloe.
In the Spring of 2012 I had an idea to put together a trio project that mixed jazz improvisation with African rhythms and song forms. Vanessa and I formed a group called the Revival Trio with bassist Shawn Hale. We had a regular Friday night gig and ended up recording a self-titled disc later that year. The band went on a hiatus during Vanessa’s relocation to New York. During the time in the band we covered some serious musical territory. African-based 12/8 rhythms, polyrhythms, folk songs in odd-meters and straight up hard-swinging free bop, that was what we did. The music we played was so well matched to Vanessa’s style that it was no use trying to find a replacement for her. The aggressive grooves Vanessa and Shawn put together underneath led to some wild nights of improvisation.
“That in turn leaves Cruz much room to do her thing and be heard doing it…they let it all hang out, leaving the strong impression that Cruz can cut it in New York’s highly competitive environment,” said Something Else Reviews in review of Revival Trio’s self titled album.
Vanessa also drums in CAVE Women, the all-female jazz quintet in Sacramento. They released a self-titled record in late 2012 and have received accolades from AllAboutJazz.com, MusicNewsNashville.com, the Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento News and Review and many others. Cruz and band mates, Alicyn Yaffee, Kim Davis, Casey Lipka and Emily Messick, are forging new territory in the folk/jazz realm.
“Vanessa Cruz is one of the most innovative, expressive, and creative drummers of today. Her musicality is very refreshing to listen to and play with, and her ideas always keep listeners and musicians engaged in the music,” said Kim Davis, who plays the flute, keys, and baritone sax for all female, original Jazz group, CAVE Women.
The Sacramento Jazz community holds Vanessa in high regard. She brings her drums across genres, from modern jazz to folk music to World music to free improvising. Vanessa plays with depth and here’s to hoping her skills on the drum set will be heard for years to come.