Get to know emerging artist David Cruz, a dynamic Toronto jazz guitarist

Up-and-coming Toronto jazz guitarist David Cruz is already getting noticed internationally, but he’s “just getting started.”

The 23-year-old has the thoughtful playing and musical sensibilities of a musician well beyond his years. He’s been performing since 2014, and he studied privately with Lorne Lofsky while getting his degree in jazz studies at York University. There, he also played in small ensembles led by highly touted Canadian jazz musicians like Kelly Jefferson, Roy Patterson and Anthony Michelli. He graduated in 2018.

This spring, Cruz released a self-titled EP that has gotten airplay across five continents, including stations all over Canada and the U.S. It’s a mix of standards and originals, rooted deeply in the jazz tradition but also looking forward and pushing boundaries. The recordings were mastered by legendary Canadian jazz drummer Barry Elmes.

“At age 23, David Cruz is a wonderfully dynamic player,” singer Laila Biali has said.

The David Cruz Group performs all over Toronto, and the band is known for its exciting improvisation and on-the-fly arrangements. Cruz also performs regularly with his fiancée, singer Avery Cantello, and her blues band, which has toured Ontario and played at festivals including the TD Niagara Jazz Festival.

Cruz is about to start a master’s degree in jazz performance at McGill University, which means he’s now splitting his time between Toronto and Montreal. “This will allow me to gig and network in both cities,” Cruz says. “I believe this step will yield a lot of amazing musical results.”

We asked the former participant in our Jazzology program to tell us more about his music, what inspires him, and what we can expect next from this young artist.

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You’ve been keeping busy the last couple years, including releasing an EP just a couple months ago that’s gotten plenty of praise and radio play. How’s it feel to see your music get that kind of recognition this early on?

It has been an incredible experience to have received so much praise at this stage in my young career. Every bit of recognition is helpful. It has also been a great way to transition from being a music student to being a professional jazz musician. There is still a lot I look forward to trying to accomplish — I’m really just getting started. But it feels like I have a strong foundation to build a career on.

The EP is a mix of standards and originals. How did you go about picking the tunes, and mixing it with original compositions that all fit together?

I have spent a long time writing and playing music that is based on jazz standards and the great American songbook. Because my original material is based directly on more traditional jazz tunes, it was easy to pair my originals with standards. I chose to record John Coltrane’s Giant Steps because my mentor, Lorne Lofsky, recorded a version of that tune on one of his first records. That tune is a puzzle, and I wanted to rise to the challenge of trying to record it. I chose to record Beatrice because it has an interesting chord progression that I enjoy finding new ways through. Truthfully, I chose Take the “A” Train for its simplicity. We recorded that tune at a tempo that’s slower than usual, and I took a bunch of liberties with the melody.

Tell us more about your personal style. What influences your original compositions? Who do you admire?

l listen to a lot of different music. My strongest guitar influences are probably Ed Bickert, Lorne Lofsky and Jim Hall. Outside of the guitar, Lester Young, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Chris Potter rank highly on my list. Recently, I’ve been checking out a bunch of Mike Moreno and Gilad Hekselman, I look forward to incorporating some of their influence into my playing as soon as possible.

What are some of your favourite gigs you’ve played recently?

Recently I played my EP release show at the Emmet Ray. That was a really fun gig. I had a lot of energy and excitement because I had been building up to the release for so long. I’ve also had some wonderful gigs recently with Avery Cantello and her band. Avery is an incredible vocalist and bandleader. We have had some great gigs, particularly at the Jazz Bistro and the Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill.

Credit: Vincent Lim

How was your experience with the Jazzology program? What did you like about it?

Very positive. It was my first time having a recording of mine played on the radio, which was very exciting. JAZZ.FM91 was a station that I grew up listening to, so to be on air was kind of surreal. I would listen to the Jazzology program a lot in high school as I was preparing to audition to music schools. I was curious to know what older and more advanced players were doing and listening to. It felt wonderful to be on air, specifically on Jazzology. Only a couple years after being featured on the show, I’m proud to say that my music has been aired around the world on five continents. I’m grateful to the Jazzology program for being my starting point.

How did the program help with your personal and professional development?

Having been featured on Jazzology was something I added to my resumé right away. I believe it came in handy as I was applying for music-related jobs. Young musicians in the scene would hear the show on air and send me messages about it. It opened up a dialogue with some people I didn’t know very well, and introduced my playing to some new people.

Would you recommend it to other young musicians? If so, why?

Of course I’d recommend this program to anyone pursuing or considering a career in music performance. Having your music aired on JAZZ.FM91 is valuable at any stage of a jazz musician’s career, but especially in the earlier stages. It will give you a chance to make professional connections and get out there.

If you could thank our donors that support the Jazzology program, what would you say?

Thank you! Being featured on the Jazzology program was invaluable to me. It was a professional boost at a crucial point for me. Musicians who are just starting out need all the support available. Most major cities and radio stations do not offer a program designed to support students. Thank you so much.

Why is music education important to you?

Music education is important because music is important. I believe it is a good pursuit and people who are musically inclined should have a chance to explore it. It makes the world a better place.

What about your plans for the future? Where would you like to be years down the road?

I have a lot planned. I’m beginning a master’s degree in jazz performance at McGill in the fall of 2019. I’ll be living half in Toronto and half in Montreal. [Avery] is pursuing her master’s in jazz performance here in Toronto. She’s too good to leave behind, so I will have to be in two places at once! The goal is to study more, get better and perform as much as possible. I intend to release more recordings. I have a full-length album in the planning stages. Beyond that, my only goal is to keep growing as a musician.

You can follow David Cruz on Instagram or visit his website at