Piece image
Image by: Tom Copi 

Billy Higgins: A Tribute To The Legendary Jazz Drummer

From: Heidi Chang
Length: 09:14

Billy Higgins was reportedly the most recorded jazz drummer in history. Higgins talks about his music and life. This profile also features interviews with Harold Land and Cedar Walton and others.

Billyhiggins_small In a rare interview, reporter Heidi Chang speaks with drummer, composer and bandleader Billy Higgins, while he was waiting for a liver transplant at his home in Los Angeles.

Higgins recalls what it was like to be part of the thriving jazz scene in the 1950's. Back then, he worked alongside Teddy Edwards, Dexter Gordon and Harold Land in L.A. Other jazz greats such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Lee Morgan and Sonny Rollins, also sought him out.

Higgins' friends share their insight, including Harold Land, poet Kamau Daa'ood and Cedar Walton, who says Higgin's warmth and enthusiasm earned him the nickname "Smilin' Billy." It was always a joy to watch and hear Higgins play.  He inspired countless musicians and audiences worldwide.  Higgins also co-founded a cultural center in Los Angeles called the World Stage, where he nurtured young musicians like Herb Graham Jr. of the B Sharp Jazz Quartet, who describes how Higgins gave him advice about music and life.

Shortly after this interview was conducted in 1996, Higgins received a liver transplant.  He died in 2001, leaving behind a rich legacy of music and jazz history. Higgins was 64.

This piece features Billy Higgins on recordings by the Teddy Edwards Quartet, Harold Land, Ornette Coleman, the Cedar Walton Trio, and his own band.  It was orginally broadcast on NPR's Weekend Edition.

To hear the full audio, sign up for a free PRX account or log in.

Piece Description

In a rare interview, reporter Heidi Chang speaks with drummer, composer and bandleader Billy Higgins, while he was waiting for a liver transplant at his home in Los Angeles.

Higgins recalls what it was like to be part of the thriving jazz scene in the 1950's. Back then, he worked alongside Teddy Edwards, Dexter Gordon and Harold Land in L.A. Other jazz greats such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Lee Morgan and Sonny Rollins, also sought him out.

Higgins' friends share their insight, including Harold Land, poet Kamau Daa'ood and Cedar Walton, who says Higgin's warmth and enthusiasm earned him the nickname "Smilin' Billy." It was always a joy to watch and hear Higgins play.  He inspired countless musicians and audiences worldwide.  Higgins also co-founded a cultural center in Los Angeles called the World Stage, where he nurtured young musicians like Herb Graham Jr. of the B Sharp Jazz Quartet, who describes how Higgins gave him advice about music and life.

Shortly after this interview was conducted in 1996, Higgins received a liver transplant.  He died in 2001, leaving behind a rich legacy of music and jazz history. Higgins was 64.

This piece features Billy Higgins on recordings by the Teddy Edwards Quartet, Harold Land, Ornette Coleman, the Cedar Walton Trio, and his own band.  It was orginally broadcast on NPR's Weekend Edition.

Broadcast History

This piece was originally broadcast on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition in 1996.

Timing and Cues

HOST INTRO: The late drummer, composer and bandleader, Billy Higgins, was reportedly the most recorded jazz drummer in history. He played on hundreds of recordings and made six records under his own name. For years, Higgins also nurtured a new generation of musicians at his cultural center in Los Angeles. Heidi Chang conducted this rare interview with Higgins, while he was waiting for a liver transplant.

(This feature runs 9:14)

Towards the end of the piece Billy Higgins talks about the cultural center he co-founded. One of his greatest joys, he said, is knowing that he's helped inspire countless musicians and audiences, especially at the the "World Stage."

"I've seen so many people transformed. I know how important the music is to do that. I've seen people come out of the place beaming! You see something like that, and if you've got any kind of empathy in your heart, it stops to be what you're doing, that is suppose to be done. And you're affiliated with this. Because today or tomorrow, if I can't do it anymore, it will keep going."

OUTCUE: Music ends.

TAG: Shortly after this interview was conducted in 1996, Higgins received a liver transplant. He died in 2001, leaving behind a rich legacy of music and jazz history. Higgins was 64.

Musical Works

Title Artist Album Label Year Length
Higgins' Hideway Teddy Edwards Quartet Teddy's Ready!. Contemporary 1960 05:03
Wave Harold Land A Lazy Afternoon. Postcards, Inc. 1995 03:19
Fiesta Espanol Cedar Walton Trio Live At Yoshi's. Monarch Records 1995 08:18
Spirit of J.C. B Sharp Jazz Quartet Mirage. The Mama Foundation 1995 06:06
Dance of the Clones Billy Higgins Mr. Billy Higgins. Evidence 1993 09:03