Higgins, the husband of jazz vocalist and painter Meredith d'Ambrosio, was born in Cambridge, MA, but began his recording career in Chicago while attending Northwestern University Music School. In 1957, Higgins became house pianist at Chicago's London House, a steady gig that lasted until 1969. [Photo at top of Eddie Higgins by John Herr]
Higgins' first trio album, Prelude to a Kiss, was recorded in 1958 for Replica Records. It was followed soon after by an appearance on Touff Assignment, a session for Argo Records led by bass trumpeter Cy Touff and featuring tenor saxophonist Sandy Mosse. In 1959, Higgins recorded live behind Coleman Hawkins during a Playboy Jazz Festival concert in Chicago.
In 1960 Higgins began a series of recordings for Vee-Jay records, starting with a session featuring his own group—The Eddie Higgins Quartet with tenor saxophonist Frank Foster and trumpeter Paul Serrano. But Higgins also could play hard, as evidenced by his sideman appearances on Lee Morgan's brilliant Expoobident and Wayne Shorter's Wayning Moments, both recorded in 1960.
Higgins' recording career ebbed in the 1970s, but the pianist re-emerged in 1981 on Tickle Toe, a date for Delmark Records that reunited him with Touff and Mosse. In the 1980s, Higgins relocated to Florida with wife Meredith and recorded several strong dates, including the live session Sonny, Sweets & Jaws and Taking Sides with tenor saxophonists Phil Urso and Allen Eager.
Among Higgins' finest albums are those he recorded with Meredith, including South to a Warmer Place, Love Is Not a Game, Shadowland and Beware of Spring. Listen to Love Is Not a Game from South to a Warmer Place. Higgins' chord choices that open the song are overwhelmingly beautiful, and the sensitivity of the pair is remarkable on everything they recorded together. In addition, Higgins' Christmas Songs (2004) for Venus Records remains one of the finest jazz piano holiday records.
But perhaps my favorite Higgins recordings are his too-infrequent solo outings—Time on My Hands (1999) for Arbors Records and Standards by Request: Second Day (2008), recorded for Venus Records in Tokyo. Here you're able to hear Higgins develop ideas uninterrupted by horns or bass and drums. It's a shame there aren't a dozen more albums like these. As record companies for which Higgins recorded reach into their vaults, perhaps more will surface.
Here's a prime example of Eddie's taste and touch...
JazzWax meets the Jazz Session. Jason Crane, host of Jazz Session, the web's foremost repository of audio interviews with jazz artists and luminaries, interviewed me recently about Bud Shank and the late saxophonist's influence on the development of the bossa nova. I interviewed Bud on the subject back in April 2008. You'll find my audio conversation with Jason on Bud here.
More David Amram on Prez. Prior to my post on David's e-mail on Lester Young last week, I sent him a few questions. David's answers came too late for the post, but here they are...
David Amram: Very often. Whenever I saw him. Lester always referred to everyone—including himself—as "Prez." He was funny, warm and could sum up endless crazed raps by others and outrageous scenes with short funny capers, a smile, look or body language that was really eloquent!
JW: How did Prez know you and your jazz French horn playing?
DA: He saw me with Charles Mingus in the mid-1950s. I was the only improvising jazz French hornist in New York besides Julius Watkins. He also knew I was playing with Oscar Pettiford's big band. Lester would hang out with everyone, and we all adored him. Yet he never acted like a star. He was the ultimate "just one of the cats" example to us all. He also taught us how to be gentle and warm, especially to those who needed a smile or some kind of recognition. He was very caring.
JW: Did you ever write the string quartet and French horn piece Young referred to in his 1959 interview?
DA: No. The drummer Willie Jones was the one who was trying to coordinate this. Willie was an amazing guy. He's the one who had introduced me to Mingus in 1955, and he worked with T.S. Monk, Thelonious' son, to start the Monk Foundation. I was going to get together with Prez when he came back off tour, but he passed away. I never got to write it. Some day I will have to dedicate a classical piece to him, as I have done with Chano Pozo, Dizzy, Bird, Monk, Machito and Oscar Pettiford.
Lighthouse memories. Following my three-part interview last week with Howard Rumsey, reader Irving Greines sent along the following e-mail:
"I'm an L.A. kid, born and raised, and I still live out here. I was in high school during the Lighthouse years, and it was so very cool to drive out and listen to a set or two. Dates thought it was so 'alternative' and interesting.
"As you have accurately reported, the Lighthouse was a very small club. It was long and very narrow, with the bandstand right behind the bar. My favorite Lighthouse night was when they squeezed in the entire Count Basie band. I had a seat at the bar, right in front of the bandstand. Wow, a gigantic sound, big-time excitement.
"Young people were attracted back then to jazz because, as I say above, it was cool and alternative. It was more than great music. It was a lifestyle to go to the Lighthouse and be cutting edge. That no longer exists. As a result, jazz doesn't have the magnet it used to have. [Pictured: Pier Ave. in Hermosa Beach in the 1950s]
"Thanks again for triggering so many memories."
CD discovery of the week: By now you've probably read a few reviews of Robert Glasper's new album, Double-Booked. Half the album features the Robert Glasper Trio in an acoustic jazz setting. The second half showcases the Robert Glasper Experiment, which offers a blend of acoustic jazz, acid jazz and new jazz forms of Glasper's making. I'll say this: Double-Booked is among the most exciting and interesting new albums I've heard this year and proves that new jazz doesn't have to be reflective, repetitive or dull. The music is restless and urgent, constantly squirming forward with enormous energy and passion.
Double-Booked certainly shows off Glasper's romantic playing chops but it also showcases his visionary thinking and sonic collages. What makes this album special isn't the split personality between straight-up jazz and acid jazz. Instead, it's Glasper's playing, which is enthusiastic, enveloping and tremendously skilled on all tracks. [Photo of Robert Glasper by Jessica Chorensky]
Glasper has been recording since 2000, and his first leadership session was in 2002. On this new release, Glasper plays piano and Fender Rhodes and is joined by Casey Benjamin [pictured] on saxes and vocoder, Vincente Archer on bass, Derrick Hodge on electric bass, Chris Dave on drums, Bilal on vocals, Mos Def on vocals and Jahi Sundance on turntables. Benjamin's sax and Dave's drums add enormous texture here.
Glasper has done his listening. There are shades of Vince Guaraldi and Thelonious Monk here as well as Herbie Hancock in the 1970s (Head Hunters and Thrust) and Roy Ayers (Everybody Loves the Sunshine). Glasper even covers Hancock's Butterfly here. But Glasper isn't simply replaying things he has heard or riffing on single themes. He blends all of these rich influences and whips them into a new and remarkable genre. This is the future of jazz, and the album should be required listening for any new artist coming up.
You'll find Robert Glasper's Double-Booked at iTunes and at Amazon here.
Oddball album cover of the week: Released in the late 1940s on Capitol, this album (issued as three 78-rpms) included a range of Stan Kenton radio transcriptions from 1945 to 1947. Surrealism was all the rage (think of the dream sequence in Hitchcock's 1945 thriller Spellbound). Yet this cover still remains an odd choice for Kenton, a notorious control freak. Somehow, Stan didn't mind the severed-hands sculptures applauding as he conducts them madly in a post-atomic fallout landscape. Call it Artistry in Dali.