Pianist Hilton Ruiz passed away early yesterday morning around 3:50am at the age of 54. He was in New Orleans working on a Hurricane Katrina benefit recording but was found in front of a bar on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter on May 19th with injuries to his face and head supposedly sustained during a fall. Since then, he had been in a coma in the hospital where he died yesterday.
A New York native (though recently residing in New Jersey), Ruiz had come into music at an early age, performing at Carnegie Hall at eight years old. He gained experience playing in Latin bands (debuting on record at 14 years old with a group called Ray Jay and the East Siders) as well as straight-ahead players like Frank Foster, Joe Newman and Freddie Hubbard. Most notably, he spent some formative years in Rahsaan Roland Kirk's band (1973-77, perhaps his most well-known "straight-ahead" association) and on the road with George Coleman (1978-79). Since then, his resume includes names as diverse as Dizzy Gillespie, George Adams, Tito Puente, Abbey Lincoln, David "Fathead" Newman and Dave Valentin. He was incredibly comfortable in all jazz styles, possessing a wide-reaching talent; he could cook up a percussive montuno, pull a listener's heartstrings with a wistful ballad or swing hard and heavy with solos in bebop and hardbop styles.
Donations can be made to help pay for his funeral or to help his family. Checks should be made payable to his agent, Joel Chriss & Co., and marked "Hilton Ruiz Memorial Fund." They can be sent here:
300 Mercer St.
New York, NY 10003
Regarding funeral arrangements:
Visitation will be:
Sun., June 11th and Mon., June 12th
2-5pm and 7-9pm at:
John J. Barrett and Son
424 W. 51st St. at 9th Avenue (in Manhattan)
A funeral mass will be said:
Tues., June 13th, 10am at:
Sacred Heart Church
457 W. 51st St. (in Manhattan)
Read the obituaries from: the AP, JazzTimes and the New York Times.
Dig this video of Ruiz in action.
P.S. While the official report states that Ruiz sustained his injuries during an accidental fall, his family has doubts.