Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Afro-Cuban Pianist Hilton Ruiz in Coma After Fall

Famed Afro-Cuban pianist Hilton Ruiz remains in a coma after being found with massive head injuries along New Orleans’ Bourbon Street on May 19.

The pianist, who turns 54 on Monday, reportedly arrived in New Orleans on Thursday, May 18 to complete work on a Hurricane Katrina benefit project. According to the New York Daily News, Ruiz entered the Utopia bar early on the 19th and was found outside along Bourbon, covered in blood at around 4:30 a.m.

Ruiz suffered several broken bones in his face and a broken skull. He also required resuscitation after his heart stopped in the ambulance en route to the hospital.

While earlier reports indicate foul play (the Ottawa Citizen ran the sub-head “Pianist Hilton Ruiz clings to life following beating,” with local police officials saying Ruiz was the victim of a “horrendously atrocious attack”), the incident is now being called an accident.

A Ruiz family representative recently told the Associated Press that it appears the pianist “tripped or fell, and fell down and hit the curb.” A police spokesman agreed that Ruiz tumbled in the early morning of May 19. No injuries to other parts of Ruiz’s body were reported and he remains in critical condition.

While an inarguable giant on the Afro-Cuban scene, the versatile Ruiz is adept at many jazz styles, from bop to stride and the blues-variable talents acquired during studies with Mary Lou Williams and dates with Freddie Hubbard, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Joe Henderson, George Coleman, Charles Mingus and Clark Terry. Since he began recording as a leader during the mid-1970s, the NYC native has combined straightahead influences with his beloved mambos and sambas-resulting in a well received pastiche that can be sampled on 1993’s Manhattan Mambo, 1994’s Hands on Percussion (featuring the late Tito Puente) and 2003’s Enchantment. As a composer, Ruiz has contributed songs to film scores including American Beauty and Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.

At the upcoming Ottawa Jazz Festival, fellow Latin jazz champion Paquito D’Rivera will fill Ruiz’s June 24 slot.

Check back at for updates on this story.

Originally Published