Hilton Ruiz Day
May 29, 1952 – June 6, 2006
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Pianist Hilton Ruiz was born on May 29, 1952, in New York City to parents from Puerto Rico.
Seeing Duke Ellington on TV as a five-year-old sparked his interest in the piano. Three years later, he was playing Mozart at Carnegie Hall.
A student of Cedar Walton and Mary Lou Williams, he played with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus, Paquito D’Rivera, and Pharaoh Sanders before launching his solo career.
Later in his career, Ruiz became a protégé of Tito Puente. Despite his Latin ancestry, Ruiz said learning to play to clave, which he succeeded in doing, was a big challenge.
“With jazz, you can incorporate everything you’ve listened to, from all over the world,” he said. “In my music, you can hear the Latin elements because when you’re playing jazz, you can only play what you are.”
Before recording under his own name, he had worked in the bands of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus, Paquito D’Rivera, and Pharoah Sanders. His compositions were featured in films such as Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and Sam Mendes’s “American Beauty.”
Ruiz died as a result of a severe beating in New Orleans while in the city to record a benefit CD.
The New Orleans Police Department, notoriously corrupt and violent, refused to investigate the case and claimed Ruiz died as a result of “hitting his head after falling on the sidewalk.” The city’s former mayor, who is now in federal prison on corruption charges, turned a deaf ear to pleas from the family and members of Congress to have the murder properly investigated.
I think the odds are 50/50 that NOPD murdered him or are protecting those who did.