By JANET McCONNAUGHEY
NEW ORLEANS Jun 6, 2006 (AP)-- Jazz pianist and composer Hilton Ruiz, who excelled in a wide variety of styles from Afro-Cuban rhythms to the blues, died early Tuesday, never regaining consciousness after a fall in front of a French Quarter bar. He was 54.
Ruiz, who had come to New Orleans from his home in Teaneck, N.J., to work on a Hurricane Katrina benefit project, had been comatose at East Jefferson General Hospital since he fell early May 19.
He died about 3:50 a.m. Tuesday, agent Joel Chriss said in a telephone interview from New York.
A jam session had been planned for Tuesday in New York before he died, as a benefit to help pay his medical expenses. Now it is also a memorial, said trumpeter Lew Soloff, a founding member of The Manhattan Jazz Quintet.
Although there were early reports that Ruiz might have been beaten, police said witnesses and other evidence indicated he fell. Attorney Mary Howell, retained by his ex-wife, Aida Ruiz, and daughter, also named Aida, said last week that they, too, were convinced that Ruiz had accidentally tripped or fallen.
But his ex-wife and daughter said late Tuesday that they had retained a new attorney, Scott Galante. They referred calls to Galante, whose home number is unlisted and whose office was answered by a machine.