posted by music journalist Robert J. Carmack photos credits: Robert Carmack and Sol Washington
You know, one of the benefits of living in Los Angeles or Southern California period, is the weather. This particular Sunday was no different than the 54 Summers past I have lived in California.But this one was very special though. The World Stage was celebrating 25 years of existence in Leimert Park (Los Angeles).and honoring one of the people wholly responsible for its foundation and support over the many years he was alive. That person was none other than, master musician Billy Higgins.One of the most storied and active drummers for a very long time at the highest level of performance.
Everybody knew he was one of the most recorded drummers in the history of jazz, But not enough knew of his tireless devotion to the community he grew up in and served one hundred fold. That is the real reason he’s being honored. If you are looking for a review of the concert, well.. this is not it! Because I was around the World Stage during its early days of Los Angeles , Post 1992 Uprising in the streets of L.A. I watched Billy in action a lot as he brought his musicians around to the stage, then around to the coffee House known as 5th Street Dick’s (my hang) There he would hold Court on why it was important that whenever they came into town to gig, they had to come to the World stage on an off day to play or teach a youngster about music. I witnessed this on many ocassions and Billy knew a lot of musicians cats.
Once I was in 5th street Dick’s Coffee house working on some poetry and listening to JMD & the Jam Master Band,(a local bad-ass group) when Billy brought in Chick Corea, Bennie Maupin and Larry Coryell to check out the music .. So I started reciting poetry with the JMD Band, all of a sudden Chick Corea got up and took over the Keyboard player’s axe, Larry Carlton cracked out his guitar and before you knew it, we had a “thang” going on.. prov-like all spontaneous… Jazz is suppose to do that to the human spirit. I looked at Billy, and He was just smiling ear to ear.. It wasn’t until much later, at another time, I realized why he was smiling so much that day. He knew then, he knew he had hooked those guys too. And soon, they were coming around a lot ,even if Billy was not there . Whenever Billy was on the road, someone at the World Stage had the responsibility to make sure the musician guests of Billy had no problems getting comfortable helping Kids or playing an afternoon concert on a Saturday before their night gig. That was how it worked for years. Jackie Mclean and Billy had long history as fellow musicians.. but Jackie always checked to make sure someone was holding down a class or something before he settled into his hotel to wait on his gig. No Billy Higgins in the community standing in the Gap, This place or listening space don’t happen! SO, if you want to know why Him??, Ask that long line of young drummers that have learned so much from being around and asking questions to a working drummer/legend. Seek out that long list of drummers and musicians in general who are very prominent Jazz musicians and Band leaders also today. Some of those same drummers could not afford a full set of drums to practice or work.. They got what they needed,, encouragement, inspiration and sometimes money. “Smiling Billy the person, the MAN” was the one being honored and respected by a legion or army of admirers and peers Sunday August 24th. Yes Sir! A Spiritual Experience for sure!!
what better way to honor the man than to allow the fruits of labor performed 25 years ago spawned great talents that was displayed on stage on that beautiful Sunday afternoon beginning with the world stage’s own African Drum Workshop . S.H.I.N.E. MAWUSI Troupe, they were the very first act we experienced. it was electrifying, as it was vivid and sublime.
It was at this point where award-winning Patrice Rushen accompanied veteran jazz singer Carmen Lundy in two riveting duets that in my opinion, should be recorded together and toured. One of the originals was played on acoustic guitar by Carmen Lundy..OMG!!
shown on the left is Kamau Daaood Poet Laureate and John Beasley Music Director/Pianist
Near the end of the evening’s show Hubert Laws came out before his accompaniment. and played a rendition of LUSH LIFE with the most clear & pure tone on Flute with the best and most sublime solo I’ve ever heard on any instrument.
On Billy Higgins: By Lew Tabackin
“Playing with Billy was like heaven. He was the greatest collaborator in the history of jazz. He played exactly right for you at exactly the right time. His dynamics were perfect, he balanced his energy off of your energy. It was the perfect ratio between his intensity and your intensity. I remember one time a friend of mine played with Billy. I said “hey how was it playing with Higgins.” He said, “you know I was expecting more energy.” I said, “no man that’s not the way it works. He plays off your energy. He your energy is low, he’s not going to kick your ass.
I did a month tour with Billy and Charlie Hayden and every night was perfect. There wasn’t one time where you thought; “we’ll he’s not having a good night.” I’ve never experienced anything like that since. That consistently musical swinging creative reality. I could hear the harmony when he would play the drums.”