Hilton Ruiz / May 29, 1952 - June 6, 2006

Another underappreciated jazz artist, Hilton Ruiz seems to have been lumped into the "Latin jazz" ghetto, but make no mistake, his music (and that of many other Latino jazz artists) is worthy of a place in the landscape of JAZZ. It has always irked me how many (usually white) fans of jazz have no problem with including the music of the European avant-garde improvisers in their listening but it's just too much of a stretch to include artists with names like Ruiz, Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaría, Sabu Martinez, Eddie Palmieri and the like to be considered SERIOUS jazz artists? Fuck, those guys are coming from "the tradition" way more than some pale Euro dudes.

Ruiz was a Nuyorican piano prodigy, playing Carnegie Hall at age 8 and studying with Mary Lou Williams. He also worked with both Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson as a teenager. He held the piano bench in Rahsaan Roland Kirk's band for many years and cut several albums with his own ensembles (often featuring the amazing reedsman Sam Rivers). Some of his sideman gigs included work with Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, David Murray, Abbey Lincoln, Marion Brown, Chico Freeman, George Coleman, Betty Carter, Barretto, Clark Terry, Paquito D'Rivera and Greg Abate.

He reportedly tripped and fell on Bourbon Street on his way to a benefit for victims of Hurricane Katrina. He died after being in a coma for a couple of weeks. His music covered bebop, Afro-Cuban, out jazz, stride, blues and even some funky New Orleans stuff. He made serious, if underappreciated, contributions as a soloist, bandleader, arranger, composer and author, and he deserves more respect outside the Latino market.

Tagged: Celebrate Icons, Hilton Ruiz, jazz, piano, Sam Rivers

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