Sunday, June 11, 2006

Latin Jazz Great Hilton Ruiz Dies in New Orleans on June 6

Jazz pianist Hilton Ruiz died the morning of June 6 in New Orleans. Ruiz was in a coma for weeks, after a fall on Bourbon Street caused severe injuries to his head.

Ruiz came to New Orleans last month to do shoot a video and do other promotional work for a new album, "Going Back to New Orleans," dedicated to the city after Hurricane Katrina. He was found outside a bar on Bourbon Street, bleeding from his face and head, the same night he arrived. Ruiz was taken to East Jefferson General Hospital, where he remained in intentsive care until his death.

The 54-year-old jazz pianist started out as a child prodigy, playing Carnegie Hall at age eight. He later found fame as a leading Latin jazz player, and toured with greats like Tito Puente and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Longtime friend and agent Joel Chriss says Hilton Ruiz's blend of modern and Latin styles was pure New York.

"The fire of New York City, the authenticity, the risk-taking. You know a lot of what New York is as a place, Hilton represented musically. And he took that sound around the world. Whether is was 6 people in the audience, or 600 or 6,000, he played with an intensity no one could touch."

Ruiz's family is planning a funeral in New York this coming week. Donations to the family can be made at Chase Bank locations.

Eve Troeh