Ronald Mathews (December 2, 1935 in New York City – June 28, 2008 in Brooklyn) was an American jazz pianist who worked with Max Roach from 1963 to 1968 and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He acted as lead in recording from 1963 and 1978–79. 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 for the album that was released by San Francisco State University's International Center for the Arts on September 15, 2008. Critics have compared him to pianists Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and McCoy Tyner.
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 1960s. 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 1980s, 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 the Netherlands, 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 1990s, 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 albums were recorded with the T.S. Monk, Jr. Band, including Charm. 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".
1963: Doin' the Thang! (Prestige) with Freddie Hubbard
1975: Trip to the Orient (East Wind), with Louis Hayes, Yoshio Suzuki
1978: Roots, Branches and Dances (Bee Hive) with Ray Drummond, Al Foster, Frank Foster, Azzedin Weston
1979: Legacy (Bee Hive) with Ricky Ford, Bill Hardman, Walter Booker, Jimmy Cobb
1980: Song for Leslie with Ray Drummond, Kenny Washington
1985: So Sorry Please (Nilva) with Ray Drummond, Alvin Queen
1988: Selena's Dance with Stafford James, Tony Reedus
1988: Stella by Starlight with Stafford James, Tony Reedus
1989: At Cafe Des Copains
1990: Dark Before the Dawn with Ray Drummond, Billy Higgins
1992: Lament for Love
1995: Shades of Monk
2001: Once I Love with Walter Booker, Alvin Queen
2008: Fortuna with Roni Ben-Hur
With Bill Hardman
Saying Something (Savoy 1961)
With Joe Henderson
With Roy Haynes
Cracklin' (New Jazz, 1963) with Booker Ervin
Cymbalism (New Jazz, 1963)
With Freddie Hubbard
Breaking Point! (Blue Note, 1965)
At Jazz Jamboree Warszawa '91: A Tribute to Miles (Sunburst, 1991)
With Lee Morgan
The Rumproller (Blue Note, 1965)
With Max Roach
Drums Unlimited (Atlantic, 1965)
With Woody Shaw
Little Red's Fantasy (Muse, 1976)
The Woody Shaw Concert Ensemble at the Berliner Jazztage (Muse, 1976)