The Late Hilton Ruiz, Latin Jazz Musician

HiltonMay 29 will mark the birth date of Hilton Ruiz, a Puerto Rican jazz musician born in New York City. “If there was a pianist who personified the term ‘Latin Jazz’ it would have to be Hilton Ruiz. His knowledge, ability, and technical skill in bop, blues, stride, avant-garde, his innate talent for the Afro Cuban montuno, and his fusing of genres made for a unique style that was all his own.” These are the words that musician editor James Nadal ( uses to describe this prolific pianist and composer.

Hilton Ruiz’s lifelong musical career began when the child piano prodigy appeared on local television at the age of five and performed at Carnegie Hall at a mere eight years old. After his classical training, Ruiz started to build a strong reputation as a jazzman, playing with the best players in the New York area while still in his teens. He was also highly sought after as an accompanist for vocalists, recording session player, and band-member.

Some of his releases include Piano Man (1975); Manhattan Mambo (1992), his most popular release; Heroes (1993); and Stepping with TP (2003), dedicated to his long time friend and musical collaborator Tito Puente. One of his last projects was as pianist/arranger on the Ray Barretto Standards, Rican-Ditioned (2006), which was a session of Puerto Rican musicians playing jazz standards. He also co-authored a three volume book, Jazz and How to Play It (1987), thus revealing his academic grasp of the sophisticated fundamentals of jazz.

Hilton died tragically on June 6, 2006 while on a visit to New Orleans to capture the images and essence of the city in the wake of Katrina, which inspired his last album. This final recording, a tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, will be released posthumously by the late pianist’s daughter, Aida Ruiz. She has named this album Hilton’s Last Note.  It will be released on May 29, 2009, what would have been Ruiz’s 56th birthday.

[Many thanks to James Nadal for bringing this wonderful musician to my attention.]

For Nadal’s full review, see

For information on the release of Hilton’s Last Note, see

See Hilton Ruiz playing with Ray Barreto at

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