[Dixielandjazz] Hilton Ruiz Obit

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Jun 8 20:12:26 PDT 2006

Some of us may not know who Hilton Ruiz was. But there is an OKOM connection
besides the fact that he died in New Orleans. Besides studying "ragtime
stride piano" with Mary Lou Willimas, there was a Dixieland connection via
Rahsaan Roland Kirk. (see 3rd and 4th paragraphs from the bottom)

Ruiz was very well known in New York City where he gigged regularly. He was
a complete jazz player.

Steve Barbone

Jazz Piano Virtuoso Hilton Ruiz, 54

By Matt Schudel - Washington Post Staff Writer - Thursday, June 8, 2006;

Hilton Ruiz, 54, a versatile pianist known for his pulsing, rhythmically
exciting Latin jazz and bebop playing, died June 6 at East Jefferson General
Hospital in New Orleans. He had been in a coma since May 19, when he was
found outside a French Quarter bar with severe head injuries. He had been in
New Orleans to make an album and video to benefit victims of Hurricane

With a broken skull and several broken bones in his face, Mr. Ruiz was
initially believed to have been beaten. Authorities later concluded that he
had suffered a serious fall. He had a heart attack while being transported
to the hospital.

Mr. Ruiz, who began his career in his teens, brought energy and flair to
virtually every genre of jazz, including boogie-woogie, Afro-Cuban and
contemporary Latin styles. He occasionally played classical music as well.
He made 18 albums as a bandleader and performed on dozens of others with
many leading names of jazz and Latin music.

In his teens, he performed with well-known jazz musicians, including Freddie
Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Frank Foster and Clark Terry. He later spent about
four years with multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk and toured the
world with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean.

Even though jazz and Latin music share certain roots in African-based
rhythms, Mr. Ruiz said, "each entity requires you to develop a special
discipline; there are definite differences in the basic feel and the basic
structure of jazz and blues and Latin idioms."

In his music, Mr. Ruiz, who was born in New York to Puerto Rican parents,
brought the varied strands of his musical odyssey together.

"With jazz, you can incorporate everything you've listened to, from all over
the world," he said. "In my music, you can hear the Latin elements, because
when you're playing jazz, you can only play what you are."

Mr. Ruiz became interested in the piano at the age of 5, when he saw a
television appearance by Duke Ellington. Three years later, as an 8-year-old
piano prodigy, Mr. Ruiz played a Mozart sonata at Carnegie Hall.

After early training in classical music, he turned primarily to jazz and was
playing professionally by the time he was 14. He studied with pianist Cedar
Walton and often visited the home of Mary Lou Williams, a pioneering jazz
pianist and composer.

"I learned a lot from Mary Lou," Mr. Ruiz said in a 2004 interview with the
Jerusalem Post. "She taught me traditional ragtime stride piano and
blues-style boogie-woogie. There is nothing better than studying with the
people who invented the style."

He absorbed the polyrhythmic music of Latin jazz stars Eddie Palmieri and
Tito Puente and in 1973 completed his apprenticeship by joining Kirk's band,
where he had a deeper exposure to some of the bedrock sources of jazz,
including blues idioms, gospel and Dixieland. He also appeared with bassist
Charles Mingus and saxophonists Paquito D'Rivera and Pharoah Sanders, among

Mr. Ruiz was a prolific composer as well as performer, and his music was
featured in Woody Allen's film "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989) and in Sam
Mendes's "American Beauty" (1999). Among his best-received albums were
"Steppin' Into Beauty" (1978), "El Camino" (1988) and "Enchantment" (2003).
In 1986, he published a three-volume instructional book, "Jazz and How to
Play It."

His marriage to Aida Ruiz ended in divorce. Survivors include a daughter,
also named Aida Ruiz.

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