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.
Tribute to the Masters: Mario Rivera
Mario Rivera was a gifted musician, composer and arranger that played more than 15 instruments, which included piano, vibraphone, drums, trumpet, timbales, congas, flute, and piccolo. But Rivera was known for how he kissed and caressed the tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones. He could play all of the family of saxophones on a virtuosic level as a soloist and section player and was one of the very few saxophonists who also mastered of the flute in the Cuban charanga style. Unlike most musicians, Rivera played all these instruments at an exceedingly high level of musicianship. Rivera dominated the “straight- ahead” jazz and Latin Jazz, Salsa and many other genres.
Mario was born July 22, 1939 in Santo Domingo, The Dominican Republic. After he arrived in NYC in 1961, he worked with Puerto Rican vocalist Joe Valle. His most significant musical associations through the years include Tito Rodríguez (1963-65), The Machito Orchestra, Sonny Stitt, Charlie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri, Típica 73, The George Coleman Octet, Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra, Slide Hampton’s Jazz Masters, the Afro Blue Band, Giovanni Hidalgo, Chico O’Farrill’s Orchestra and especially Tito Puente’s Orchestra and Latin Jazz Ensemble with whom he worked for on and off for decades.
Even though Rivera was one of the hardest working sidemen in the jazz and Latin music business he also led two groups of his own Salsa Refugees and The Mario Rivera Sextet. Although having appeared on virtually hundreds of recording, Mario recorded only one disc as a leader named after his sobriquet, “El Comandante.” It has fine examples of combinations of the native rhythm of his homeland, merengue from the Dominican Republic and jazz improvisation. Indeed it can be considered not only a tribute to his homeland and his mastery of jazz harmony but an homage also to one of his inspirations and yet another unsung hero, fellow Dominican saxophone master, Tavito Vásquez.
Rivera’s passing has been felt very hard in the Latin music and jazz community and he is sorely missed. But we have his stories, music recordings, photos, and videos to remember this grand musician because what he left us makes him truly immortal.
We leave the readers with these final thoughts from Mario himself: “In my case, the day becomes the night and the night becomes the day. There are no vehicles on the street; there are no sirens at night. There is nothing that could block the inspiration. My home is like a musical laboratory because I have to accomplish so many things, I have to learn to play so many instruments. I spend all of my free time at home, practicing like a maniac, refining my chops. This is why I play 24 instruments. When it comes to music, one must be actively militant. Music demands your entire attention and dedication. If a musician is not willing to make that commitment, he will end up floating on a sea of turds, along with the other idle and mediocre characters.”
Mario Rivera passed in August, 2007, may he play on.
Content source: James Nadal
Photos from the Facebook Tribute Page: Mario Rivera “el Comandante”
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