Thursday, January 15, 2015

1/2 of a concert with 3/5 of the Four & More band

First I want to acknowledge that headline... that just happened... OK...

Does it seem like we're in a Billy Higgins trough right now? I don't feel like he's getting talked about a lot— the current zeitgeist of maximal chops, polish, and improvisatory drama is not his thing. He's not going to throw you around and have his way with you, the way people like it today.

Whatever: here he is playing part of a festival set with George Coleman, Herbie Hancock, and Ron Carter. Billy's playing his 20" 602 rivet cymbal, which was a feature of his sound later in his career.

I've listened to tons of Billy, and love his playing, but it took me a listen through to actually accept what's going on here— so, if it sounds rough to you, listen to it again. That first drum solo is notable because I think a lot of ambitious young jazz musicians today would not feel comfortable having played that— it doesn't feel like doctoral recital material. But this is the real creative article— you're supposed to play this way.


  1. Ken Morley1:36 PM

    Couldn't agree more.

  2. I certainly wouldn't have minded playing that solo (of course, I'm not the most accomplished jazz drummer or soloist, but still)! Billy is the man. I saw him live with Joshua Redman in 1993, and it's probably my favorite live drum performance that I've ever witnessed (although Elvin Jones comes in a close second).

  3. I think I had the feeling it was a little rough, but listening to the solo again, it's just sublime, so I don't know what the hell I was talking about. Except that it seems kind of at odds with the current flashy, "correct", high-craft thing. Everybody worships Billy, but I think a lot of us— that is, me— are too insecure to sustain the vibe he does.

    That was one of the things I'm most pissed at myself for missing-- that tour with Metheny and Christian McBride. I think I was totally broke at the time... something lame like that...

  4. When I saw Billy in 1993, I hadn't listened to him a whole bunch yet. Not only was his performance musically dazzling, but to me at the time it seemed technically dazzling as well. I don't know if that's because I wasn't as critical back then, or if Billy's technique just happened to be sharper at that particular time. It was only after that concert that I started reading things about Billy in which people said things like, "He doesn't have flashy technique, but he's VERY musical," which took me aback at first, since I'd not noticed anything at all lacking when I saw him. Since then I've been able to understand what those people meant, but if "good technique" involves getting the job done, saying what you want to say musically, and making everything feel good, then damn, Billy had fabulous technique.

    Incidentally, have you seen that video (in two parts) on Youtube of Billy playing "Isn't She Lovely" with a large group led by George Coleman? Billy hardly does anything technically, but the whole things is absolutely beautiful.

    Thanks for bringing all this stuff up, Todd. Your posts are the best.

  5. I think when he plays his technical stuff, you don't feel like you're being bombarded with drum shit-- maybe that's it. He could certainly play some ridiculously fast tempos with Ornette.

    I had a bad experience with the 70s Sonny Rollins cover of ISL, but I'll check it out!

  6. By the way, I don't believe you when you say you're not an accomplished jazz drummer. I think you're wrong, there.