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June 10, 2006

Pianist Hilton Ruiz Dies in New Orleans

Written by
cindy mcleod

jazz news

Jazz pianist Hilton Ruiz dies

Hilton Ruiz, a jazz pianist who played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Tito Puente, died Tuesday in New Orleans. He was 54.

Ruiz who turned 54 on May 29, had been comatose at East Jefferson General Hospital since he fell early May 19 in front of a French Quarter bar. He had been in New Orleans to shoot video to go along with a Hurricane Katrina benefit CD of New Orleans music.

Described as a complex man and a brilliant musician, composer, bandleader, as well as one of the most versatile musicians in jazz, Ruiz was a master of bop, Afro-Cuban, stride and many other styles.

Born in New York City in 1952, he began his musical studies early on, training in classical music as well as jazz. Considered a child prodigy, he performed at Carnegie Hall at the age of eight. His teachers included jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams.

Playing with Latin groups in his early teens, Ruiz made his first recording at age 14 with a group called Ray Jay and the East Siders. While still in his teens, he worked with tenor saxophonists Frank Foster and Joe Henderson and trumpeters Joe Newman, Freddie Hubbard and Cal Massey.

He was among musicians featured on the 1997 video “The Best of Latin Jazz,” and his song “Something Grand” is part of the “American Beauty” soundtrack.

There will be a service held for Hilton Ruiz on Monday, June 12th in New York, with jazz clubs around the world being asked by the pianist’s family and management to do a symbolic dimming of the lights and radio stations asked to play his music on Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. local time, in acknowledgement of his enormous contributions to jazz.

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