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Jazz pianist Hilton Ruiz in critical condition

Musician-composer found unconscious on Bourbon Street last week
/ Source: The Associated Press

Jazz pianist and composer Hilton Ruiz was in critical condition Wednesday, nearly a week after he was found unconscious on Bourbon Street, his skull and many bones in his face broken, according to his agent.

No injuries were reported to other parts of Ruiz’s body, said Joel Chriss, Ruiz’s agent and manager. He said Ruiz’s heart stopped on the way to the hospital, but he was resuscitated.

Ruiz, whose 54th birthday is May 29, has been unconscious since he was found about 4:30 a.m. Friday after leaving a local bar, Chriss said from New York in a telephone interview.

The initial police report said Ruiz fell, police spokesman Bob Young said Wednesday. He said Ruiz’s injuries are still listed as accidental, but the investigation continues “to determine if it was anything else.”

Ruiz’s doctors doubt the injuries were accidental, according to Chriss. Young did not know whether investigators have spoken with the doctors.

Chriss said, “One could easily draw the conclusion that he was attacked, though lawyers have asked us not to characterize it that way because we have no proof. We have no suspect, no weapon.”

Keith Darcey, a spokesman for East Jefferson General Hospital, said Ruiz remained in critical condition Wednesday. Privacy rules kept the hospital from giving any details, he said.

Ruiz, of Teaneck, N.J., was in the city for radio and television interviews about a forthcoming CD featuring New Orleans music, and to take some photographs for it, Chriss said.

Trained in classical music as well as jazz, Ruiz played at Carnegie Recital Hall when he was 8 years old and is known in the jazz world for both his Afro-Cuban jazz and his bop playing. His teachers included jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams; he spent four years working with saxophone player Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

He was playing with Latin groups in his early teens and made his first recording at 14, with a group called Ray Jay and the East Siders.

The many musicians with whom he has worked includes Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus. Ruiz has made hundreds of recordings, including at least 20 to 30 under his name, Chriss said.