[JPL] Eddie Higgins obit

Arturo Gomez arturo at kuvo.org
Wed Sep 2 14:13:05 EDT 2009


Eddie Higgins, 1932-2009: Piano player with deep ties to Chicago
He led house trio at the London House in Chicago from the late 1950s to the late 1960s
February 21, 1932 to August 31, 2009


When Eddie Higgins sat down at the piano, savvy listeners expected something close to perfection.

The elegance of his tone, the sophistication of his harmonies and the extraordinary range of his repertoire made him one of the most distinctive pianists to come out of Chicago. As the leader of the house trio at the long-gone London House from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, he became something of a Chicago institution, revered by local and visiting musicians for his profound mastery of the instrument.

Mr. Higgins, 77, who moved east after the long London House run but continued to perform here periodically, died of lung and lymphatic cancer Monday, Aug. 31, at Holy Cross Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, said his wife, jazz vocalist Meredith d'Ambrosio.

"When he played at the London House, a lot of times the main act did not want to follow him -- or shouldn't have," said former Chicago pianist Judy Roberts, who took over Mr. Higgins' spot at the London House in 1969.

"He was brilliant and had tons of chops without being flamboyant," Roberts said. "He had gorgeous facility, and he was high-class all the way. He never resorted to any cheap tricks. ... He was flawless."

Just as important, Mr. Higgins had the unusual ability to sound equally persuasive in a broad span of music. Whether he was playing traditional swing, high-energy bebop or something contemporary, he somehow crystallized the stylistic flavor of each.

"He was like the consummate pro," said tenor saxophonist Greg Fishman, Roberts' husband, who worked with Mr. Higgins. "When you recorded with him, it was all first takes. ... And he had such a sensitive touch on piano, incredible use of dynamics."

Born in Cambridge<http://www.chicagotribune.com/topic/us/massachusetts/middlesex-county-%28massachusetts%29/cambridge-%28middlesex-massachusetts%29-PLGEO100100608011490.topic>, Mass., Mr. Higgins moved to the Chicago area to attend Northwestern University<http://www.chicagotribune.com/topic/education/colleges-universities/northwestern-university-OREDU0000132.topic>'s School of Music. He launched his professional career at that time, performing prolifically as a student. Shows in fondly remembered rooms such as the Brass Rail, the Blue Note, the Cloister Inn and Jazz Ltd. quickly earned him a reputation as a first-call pianist.

At London House, a storied club at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, Mr. Higgins' shared the marquee with Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz<http://www.chicagotribune.com/topic/arts-culture/stan-getz-PEHST000765.topic>, Dizzy Gillespie<http://www.chicagotribune.com/topic/entertainment/music/jazz-music/dizzy-gillespie-PECLB001933.topic>, Erroll Garner<http://www.chicagotribune.com/topic/entertainment/erroll-garner-PECLB001872.topic>, George Shearing and other stars of the day. The icons were impressed, several inviting him to record with them, including saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Wayne Shorter, trumpeter Lee Morgan, trombonist Jack Teagarden<http://www.chicagotribune.com/topic/arts-culture/jack-teagarden-PEHST001973.topic> and pianist Sergio Mendes (Mr. Higgins played vibes).

Mr. Higgins also recorded prolifically in Chicago with his own trio, and with such noteworthy Chicagoans as violinist Eddie South and saxophonist Eric Schneider.

"He loved those Chicago years, but he hated the cold and the wind, so that was that," his wife said. "He didn't want to travel with Art Blakey," the legendary drummer, "although Art asked him to."

After leaving Chicago, Mr. Higgins divided his time between homes in Cape Cod and Ft. Lauderdale and continued to perform and record regularly.

Dates in Korea and Japan were on his calendar of upcoming concerts, his wife said.

Said Chicago trombonist Russ Phillips, who cut four recordings with Mr. Higgins: "He was as fun to play with as he was to listen to. You couldn't play a wrong note when you were with Eddie."

Mr. Higgins also is survived by his daughters, Lela Damico and Shelley Freedman; and four grandchildren.

His ashes will be scattered in Cape Cod, his wife said.



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