Hilton Ruiz

Pianist, composer

Jazz pianist and composer Hilton Ruiz, , died Tuesday in New Orleans. He was 54.

Ruiz, who came to New Orleans to work on a Hurricane Katrina benefit recording, had been comatose since he fell May 19 in front of a French Quarter bar.

Ruiz, of Teaneck, N.J., has been described as one of the most versatile musicians in jazz, playing bop, Afro-Cuban, stride and many other styles.

Ruiz came to New Orleans with Marco Matute, a producer for the M27 World label, to shoot video to go along with a Hurricane Katrina benefit compact disc of New Orleans music.

Trained in classical music as well as jazz, Ruiz played at Carnegie Recital Hall when he was 8 years old. His teachers included jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams; in his early 20s, he and Turre both worked with saxophone player Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

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

“I was pretty lucky in being exposed to a lot of different kinds of music, and studying them with good teachers,” he said, quoted in a biography on the Telarc International Corp.’s Web site.

The many musicians with whom he worked included Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus.

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.

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