Hilton Ruiz (May 29, 1952 – June 6, 2006) was a Nuyorican jazz pianist in the Afro-Cuban jazz mold, but was also a talented bebop player. He would Have been 70 on May 29, 2022.
Born in New York City, Ruiz began playing piano at the age of five after being inspired by Duke Ellington. At the age of eight he performed Mozart at Carnegie Hall. In high school Ruiz studied jazz piano with Mary Lou Williams. In 1973 he was a sideman for Roland Kirk, then later for Clark Terry. He also worked with Betty Carter, Tito Puente, and Mongo Santamaría. He co-wrote a music instruction book, Jazz and How to Play It. He appeared on the soundtrack to Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Hilton Ruiz was of Puerto Rican descent. While still in his teens he gigged with Freddie Hubbard, Joe Newman and others. Later, he was Roland Kirk‘s main pianist from 1974 to 1977 and was featured on such records as The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio Color and The Return of the 5000 Lb. Man. Ruiz also recorded several solo albums between the 1980s and 2000s.
“With jazz, you can incorporate everything you’ve listened to, from all over the world. In my music, you can hear the Latin elements, because when you’re playing jazz, you can only play what you are.” – Hilton Ruiz
On May 19, 2006, Ruiz was found unconscious on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where he had gone to promote a CD benefiting the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The police filed a report that he had injured himself in an accidental fall. Ruiz was hospitalized in a coma and died without regaining consciousness a week after his 54th birthday. Ruiz was a resident of Teaneck, New Jersey. He was buried at Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in New York City.