One of the most prestigious pianists of the past 40 years and yet one of
those essential contributors to the puzzle of jazz history who has not received
due recognition. It seems "Ronnie Mathews" would be more a household
name than it is, for his lofty investment into jazz. According to the New
York Daily News, "Ronnie Mathews (is) another stalwart figure who has
yet to receive the proper recognition." His years of touring and his
many albums, both as leader and sideman, are overwhelming in number. Critics
have showered accolaides upon his name and affectionately compare him to fellow
pianists Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, with a sprinkle of McCoy Tyner. Not
that Ronnie ever imitated them, but rather, that he is in league with these
In his twenties, Ronnie was already an accomplished player who toured internationally and recorded with the likes of Max Roach, Freddie Hubbard and Roy Haynes. He was also a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in the late 1950's through the 60's. By thirty, he began teaching jazz piano and led workshops, clinics and masterclasses 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). Of the three Louis Hayes recordings that features Ronnie, his original compositions can be heard on "The Real Thing" (Muse).
One of the highlights of his career and longest associations, was with the Johnny Griffin Quartet. In Ronnie's own words, "This was a very, very special group." For almost five years (1978-1982) he was an integral part of Johnny Griffin's Quartet and forged lasting relationships with Johnny, Kenny Washington (drums) and Ray Drummond (bass). The New York Times describes Ronnie as "a constant and provocative challenge to Mr. Griffin...(he) is the energizer of the group..."
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. He also toured with Freddie Hubbard and Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Band. One sign of his broad scope of talent and musical amiability, is his position as pianist for the Tony Award winning Broadway musical, "Black and Blue" in 1989. And Broadway wasn't his only cross-media project; In 1990, Mathews was one of the artists who recorded on Spike Lee's movie, "Mo' Better Blues."
After a stint touring and recording with Clifford Jordan Big Band in the early 90's, Ronnie joined T.S. Monk, Jr. for eight years of touring and recording. Gleaming reviews of the T.S. Monk Band never failed to complement Mathews. Chicago Tribune considered Ronnie "the soul of the band... who's angular romanticism provides the horn players with a lush, spicy foundation..."
To date, Ronnie tours extensively both as a leader and sideman, and can be found at any one of the major festivals across the globe. Mathews is a well-seasoned composer and does master classes and clinics whenever the opportunity arises. In 1999 his book, "Easy Piano of Thelonious Monk", was published through Hal Leonard Books. This compilation of Ronnie Mathews' arrangements is Thelonious Monk tunes made easy, for students of the piano. He continues on an educational path by doing clinics in connection with the book.
Ronnie Mathews is something like Clark Kent: a superhero in disguise! For all he's done, you may not know it was him. Hopefully the oncoming months will bring Ronnie into the spotlight, where the world will acknowledge all he's accomplished!