Ronnie Mathews was born on December 2, 1935 in New York City and passed away on June 28, 2008 in Brooklyn, New York at the age of 72.
Mr. Mathews began his career while still a student at the Manhattan School of Music in the late 1950s, accompanying the singer Gloria Lynne. During his four years with Roach he also worked frequently with the drummer Roy Haynes and the trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Among his employers after he left Roach in 1967 were the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, the saxophonist Dexter Gordon and the drummer Art Blakey.
In his twenties, Mathews toured internationally and recorded with Roach, Freddie Hubbard and Roy Haynes. He was also a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the late 1950s through the 60′s. By thirty, he began teaching jazz piano and led workshops, clinics and master classes at Long Island University in New York City. Besides Dexter Gordon and Clark Terry, he toured and recorded on two Louis Hayes projects in the 70′s (i.e. the Louis Hayes-Woody Shaw Quintet and the Louis Hayes-Junior Cook Quintet)
One of the highlights of his career, and one of his longest associations, was with the Johnny Griffin Quartet. For almost five years (1978-1982) he was an integral part of this band and forged lasting relationships with Griffin, Kenny Washington (drums) and Ray Drummond (bass). The New York Times described Mathews as “a constant and provocative challenge to Mr. Griffin. […He] is the energizer of the group”. One of the few Johnny Griffin recordings that features Mathews’ original compositions is “To the Ladies” (Galaxy).
In the 80′s, Mathews began honing his role as a front man. He performed as a leader in duo, trio and quartet configurations around the world (from New York City to Genova, to the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, and more). He also toured with Freddie Hubbard and Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Band. Mathews was also involved in cross-media projects: he was pianist for the Tony Award winning Broadway musical, Black and Blue in 1989, and, in 1990, he was one of the artists who recorded for Spike Lee’s movie, Mo’ Better Blues.
After a stint touring and recording with the Clifford Jordan Big Band in the early 90′s, Mathews joined T.S. Monk for eight years of touring and recording. The Chicago Tribune stated that “The soul of the band […] is pianist Ronnie Mathews, whose angular romanticism provides the horn players with a lush and spicy foundation for their improvising”. Three CDs were recorded with the T.S. Monk, Jr. Band, including “Charm”.
His most recent work was in 2008, as both a mentor and musician with “Generations”, a group of jazz musicians headed by veteran drummer Jimmy Cobb. He contributed two new compositions to the album that was released by San Francisco State University’s International Center for the Arts on September 15, 2008.
Mathews died of pancreatic cancer on June 28, 2008 in Brooklyn.
(In 1998 Hal Leonard Books published his collection of student arrangements: “Easy Piano of Thelonious Monk”.)