Billy Higgins


Senior Member
As a jazz aficionado, but mostly as a music fan and drummer I decided to pay my respects to this great musician.

Billy is not often mentioned in drummer forums or circles... but he was no unknown overlooked guy... he was a master.

His playing was both flawless and tasteful... he was inventive, and had a looseness and sense of swing, that was just a joy to listen.

But what really blows me away was his musicality... one of the few guys from his era who was known for playing rock n' roll BEFORE jazz... and went on to do groundbreaking work with Ornette Coleman, Thelonius Monk, Lee Morgan, Charlie Haden, and so many other artists... so many great musical moments have his stamp...

Listening last night to his album "Soweto", I just remembered what an amazing talent this man was...

This is absolutely one of my favourite records... he not only composes and arranges a big chunk of the music, he also sang and played guitar on it... his sense of swing is phenomenal... you can hear Ed Blackwell, Roy Haines in him... and you can hear him on Tony Williams and Elvin... Billy was amazing... he just flowed with the music as well as drive it.

Billy was not one of those guys that were a lot on magazine covers or endorsements... but he was a true master... a man that ONLY produced great drumming... if you can, check out some of his music or get one of his albums... if you are not very familiar with him, give a listen.


Platinum Member
Listen to a young Billy burn on Art Pepper's album, LANDSCAPE.

y'all will thank me for it ; )


Platinum Member
Apologies, Bernhard, I unfortunately don't have it.

Had it on an LP ( remember those.. ) years ago and never found a CD of it later. It is the most unbelieveable Billy in a quartet setting, that I've ever heard ( pepper, Higgins, Dumas, and Cables ). So magical, so in control, so tasteful.

I'm hoping someone here at the forum would have heard it or even better, have it.......... and post it up.

If not, look it up in cd download sites and do listen to True Blues, and Avalon particularly.

In the meantime enjoy him with Jakie McLean and Woody Shaw:
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One of my favorites with Billy is Bouncin' with Dex, by Dexter Gordon.

I've seen Billy perform several time, always with a beautific smile plastered on his face. He always made the music feel good. Try smiling the next time you play.

Funky Crêpe

Silver Member
I have just started getting into the man, what a talent he was. I only like some of Ornette coleman's stuff, but he was amazing with him, I also recently got the Joshua redman album " Wish". Love his playing on that too, real nice accompaniment for Joshua and Metheny, really reccomend that album.

RIP from a guy who is still trying to dig up stuff from him.

con struct

Platinum Member
Billy Higgins is one of my heroes. No matter who he's playing with he's right there. The other night I was listening to the Lee Morgan CD "Sidewinder." Not really all that great a record but Higgins' drumming is so very tasty and personal.

Check out "Voice in the Night" by Charles Lloyd for some of my favorite drumming by Billy Higgins. It's a pretty low-key session but Higgins still manages to burn.


Silver Member
Yesterday, I posted this in the technique section under the thread "Jazz Dynamics". But I thought it would be more appropriate here, to give tribute to this great, underrated player. I'm also going to edit it a bit to describe a few remembrances of the first time I saw Billy:

The best example/lesson in low volume intensity I've ever witnessed was watching Billy Higgins play at The Willow Jazz Club in Ball Square, Somerville, MA. This was in the fall of 1985 and at the time, I wasn't familiar with any of his work, though I’d heard his name before as an artist to be reckoned with. He had flown out from LA to play with a 15 year old Alto Sax prodigy named Christopher Hollyday. The band lineup that night was all top local players: John Lockwood on Bass, John Medeski on Piano, Chris Hollyday on Alto and his brother Richard on Trumpet.

Now he had shown up with only hi-hat cymbals, 2 rides, a snare, sticks, mallets & brushes. In the corner of the stage was a tiny 4 piece set. It looked like a kid's drum kit, and people were wondering when the amateur hour band was going to pick up their equipment! It turned out it was a Remo pre-tuned student set and as there was no other drums forthcoming, it started to look like Billy was going to make do with it. So I would learn another lesson: it really didn’t matter what you play on. By the end of the night every drummer in the audience would have bought one. ;-)

Billy began setting up this little set and then accidentally dropped his snare onto the cradle of the stand. The bottom head made a ‘pop’ sound after hitting one of the prongs, but fortunately wasn’t punctured. If that did happen I was prepared to drive home and get a replacement. Anyway, after he set up, I wanted to get as close as possible to the stage. I ended up sitting about one foot from his hi-hat with a friend of mine on the other side. I had some reservations for a moment. Then I thought, "Hey, my ears might get blown out, but at least I'll get to hear some great playing up close". Although, I still had no idea what was in store. Then a surprise: Alan Dawson stopped by briefly, scanned the room and went over to talk to Billy. It turned out that the Remo PTS was on loan from him, since it was a last minute gig. There happened to be about ½ dozen of his former students there and while I think he was pleased we came out, he kept a poker face, walked passed us, didn’t say a word and left.

From the moment the band started, and throughout the night, Billy’s sticks never once came up more than 2 inches, even for accents and crashes. Most of his playing was in a range about ½"-1" off of the cymbals, and when he switched to brushes it wasn’t to play quieter; it was just because he heard a different sound in his head. And he set the band on fire! The way he lifted each player, his infectious attitude, and the way he integrated every note of his playing into the total sound was like nothing I’d experienced before. He had a constant smile; I’m talking the entire time he played, which at first seemed a bit silly or insincere. But after a few minutes of playing, you could feel this overwhelming joy spread through the whole club. Occasionally, he’d make a soft vocal coo, especially when Chris Hollyday would play some Bird-like run. Most of the time, when a drummer is described as a “painter”, it’s a bit of a cliché. But Billy improvised masterpieces of rhythmic and tonal art that were beautiful enough to be standalone pieces and supportive enough to draw the most inspired performance from everyone on that stage. Nobody spoke above a whisper between tunes and after the 1st set I had the chance to talk to him at the bar. “Sounded great!” wasn’t going to cut it, but I ended up saying something equally as awkward. I blurted out the following to him: “I felt like my brain was being massaged”. He just went, “Ooh…hmmm… Do you play?” I said, “A bit” and then he asked if I were in school or studying with anyone. I told him who I studied with a few years back and he said, “I know Alan”. Then I asked him if he had any advice for young drummers. He said, "Play every day".

The 2nd set topped the 1st one, and the whole time an NBC camera crew was taping it. It was to be shown later that week as part of a human interest story, something like: “15 year old prodigy who sounds like Charlie Parker meets Billy Higgins”. (At that time, John Medeski was not well known outside of jazz circles, so it only showed him and the others in passing). But by the end of the 2nd set, the camera crew said they’d stop taping and the club owner asked if we wanted to hear them play more. Everyone cheered (even the crew!) and the band proceeded to rip on standards until about 3:30 AM. This after hours set was pure magic and we all left with a high-positive energy, knowing we’d seen something very special. Plus, our hearing was intact!

Anyway here’s a taste of Billy’s playing with Hank Jones on Piano and Dave Holland on Bass:

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Junior Member
Billy Higgins was the favorite drummer of most everybody who played with him. That touch, swing, joy, feeling, and that steaming at low-volume was irresistible.


Silver Member
I think this guy deserves a thread. Billy Higgins played on many great jazz recordings from the late 50's and later. Very modern but does not sound like Tony or Elvin. Truly a voice of his own.

I have been playing the heck out of John Scofield's "Works for Me" the last few weeks. I will looking for more recordings with Billy Higgins!


Platinum Member
here's my trade secret on how to check the /Drummers/ section for existing threads...

Sure, there's the search function. But to check the /Drummers/ section I've even stopped using the forum search function.
What I'd do is to click on the 1st page of that section and search that page, using that Control+F shortcut.
I'd then move on to the 2nd page (of a total of 20 pages) and search with Ctrl+F, then page 3, 4, ... up to the last page.
Still nothing found? THEN there's no thread on that specific drummer in the /Drummers/ section yet.

Old-style? Quite some work? Yes, but it works - see for yourself ;-)
I've moved several 'new' threads into the existing ones using this method. I think it's worth it.


Silver Member
Yes that is quite complicated but I will keep that in mind if I ever want to start a thread of someone in the future.

As far as Billy, thanks for bringing this thread back up. Time to stock up on more Billy recordings!


Platinum Member

IMO some of Billy's greatest playing is on a little known album by Art Pepper called Landscape.

Hope some of you get to check it out.



Platinum Member
And incredibly versatile, too. He's on those early Ornette Atlantics, some pretty out there stuff.

Definitely one of the all-time greats.


Well-known member
One of my top five favorites. I love the stuff he did with Lee Morgan and so many others. It didn't hit me until about six years ago how much I was influenced by him.