It was a brisk, fall evening Sunday - October 19, 2008 when pupils, aficionadas, aficionados, and all others came out to the inimitable World Stage, located in the Leimert Park district of Los Angeles. We wanted to give thanks and recognition to Drummer - Billy Higgins, the founder of one of the greatest venues for Jazz, Poetry, Prose, Dance and other art forms.
The Birthday Celebration and observance was a golden opportunity to give a tribute to a life that was an example to all of those who came in touch with him, Billy Higgins.
Mr. Higgins founded the workshop with community activist and poet, Kamau Daaood. Part of the purpose of the "Stage" as it is often called, is provide a forum where all forms of African American music, art, and poetry can be learned, and individually and collectively expressed.
Rose Gales coordinates one of the classes "the Sisters of Jazz Workshop. She is a wonderful pianist in her own rite, hosted the tribute to the renowned drummer.
There was a spectacular line up of musicians all with their "ax" in hand and a full heart to share their gift of music honoring Billy; a man who was always ready to give of himself and resources to the community.
The night was kicked off with a quartet that consisted of the following artists.
Ralph Gibson - Saxes
Mark Boykin - Bass
Kharon Harrison - Drums
Cengiz Yalikaya - Piano
This particular dynamic ensemble all gave testimony of having personally performed with Billy.
They gave us a stunning array of tunes starting with a Cedar Walton tune "Firm Roots" followed by a tune that was saturated in Jazz; Pharaoh Sanders' "Thembi".
"3 Flowers" and "Short Story" were arrangements performed with great attention to form and innovative technique.
Joe Henderson's "Recorda-Me" pronounced "Recorda-mae" was splendidly laid out in translucent mode with warm yet fiery colors and shades beguiling you...sweetly.
Later in the set Sean Dell joined the group on Piccolo...WOAH!!!!!!!!!
His style is akin to a waterfall that begins emerging slowly then takes you down the jazz river of no return. Oh yeah, Ralph Gibson on Sax fused with Sean Dell on a parallel mission, taking runs that scuttled us through a true mindset of music pleasure.
Kharon Harrison on Drums would not be denied his opportunity to take us a flight an exquisite excursion. He is a fantastic drummer, carving his path. I'm certain that his performance would have brought that infectious smile to Billy Higgins face that all he was known for, had he been present at the tribute given in his honor that Sunday evening.
Mark Boykin on Bass added his exceptional ingenuity on solos and linking with the ensemble.
A shy but very talented young woman, "Wataberry" shared of her encounters with Billy Higgins. She talked of various encounters she enjoyed with him with regard to music, learning, performing, and life.
Wataberry played guitar and sang a very cool rendition of Phoebe Snow's "Harpo's Blues". It was done with elegance.
There were numerous other performances during the night from well-known Jazz artists of the area to aspiring locals that had participated in one of the workshops available at the "Stage" as it’s often called.
Yours truly was one of those ardent aspirers. I joined one of the ensembles that had a drummer, pianist, and bassist as they played what the pianist noted as "Some Blues"...
I nervously approached a stage and made eye contact with an engaged group of musicians who nodded towards me. The audience was smiling as I closed my eyes and added a chorus of "Wading in the Water" in the key of F. I then tossed in a few measures of the F pentatonic blues scale. I do hope my ingredient brought a palatable selection to the entree and coalesced with the ensemble's savory dish of blues.
Some other pieces dedicated throughout the night were Tony Bennett's affecting "Who can I turn to" and Walter Gross' romantic piece "Tenderly". The rhythm section which included a pianist, a bassist, and a drummer linked to give lovingly wonderful renditions that could melt anyone's heart.
Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" and "Well You Needn't" were tunes that brought the house down.
Rose Gales sat in on many tunes and added her unprecedented and compelling sound on piano.
Behold the splendor.
Unfortunately, I was not able to find out the names of all the great musicians that performed this enchanting evening. Their individual tenacious faces twinkle and fervor in their eyes, creativity, and total essence will remain etched in my mind, heart, and spirit.
It was indeed a dedicated program that honored Billy Higgins, a kind and intuitive drummer that began a fire, some years ago.
Many spectacular musicians have kept Billy's vision going while fulfilling their own each time they individually and collectively perform.
This was a lovely evening and remarkable acknowledgement for Billy Higgins, a giant in love, soul, peace making, giving, social consciousness, brotherhood, sisterhood, and music.