Internationally acclaimed Afro-Cuban pianist Hilton Ruiz died yesterday at 3:51 a.m. in New Orleans’ East Jefferson General Hospital. He had been comatose in the intensive care unit since May 19, when he was found along Bourbon Street with massive head injuries. He was 54.
Ruiz enjoyed a long, dynamic career. Born in New York City on May 29, 1952, he began building his musical resume at an extraordinarily young age. At eight years old, Ruiz played Carnegie Hall and was a guest on the Sandy Becker television show. At nine, he took part in an accordion symphony and gigged with various Latin bands as a teenager. In addition to studying jazz with Mary Lou Williams, Ruiz received training in both classical and Latin piano styles. His musical expertise was eclectic, extending far beyond Afro-Cuban music into bebop and blues. During his career, he played with other musical notables such as Freddie Hubbard, Betty Carter, Joe Henderson, Frank Foster, George Coleman, Charles Mingus, Clark Terry and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.