Steve Nelson Trio A Common Language (Daybreak 2024)

NEW RELEASE – STEVE NELSON TRIO

Doing a Double Nelson.

Steve Nelson Trio - A Common Language

Personnel

Steve Nelson (vibraphone), Joris Teepe (bass), Eric Ineke (drums)

Recorded

on October 23, 2023 at De Smederij, Zeist

Released

as Daybreak 802/3 in 2024

Track listing

Bag’s Groove
Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise
Body And Soul
I Hear A Rhapsody
Ceora
My Shining Hour
I Thought About You
Star Eyes
Oh, Lady Be Good
Embraceable You
Well, You Needn’t
Up Jumped Spring
Lover Man
I Remember April
Satin Doll


“There’s no telling what we’ll play in the second set,” bystanders overheard bassist Joris Teepe say at the CD-release concert of A Common Language by the Steve Nelson Trio at De Pletterij in Haarlem on April 1. Among others, it turned out, they played a lush version of ‘Round Midnight and a gritty jump blues take on Frankie And Johnny, both made up on the spot and not presented on the American vibraphonist’s first album on the Daybreak imprint of Timeless Records.

Steve Nelson, preeminent 69-year-old vibraphonist and past associate of Dave Holland and Mulgrew Miller, is an invitee of ‘Dutch New Yorker’ Teepe, who as artistic advisor of the Prins Claus Conservatory of Groningen regularly brings his American connections to his home country. The trio is completed by veteran drummer Eric Ineke, pinnacle of Dutch jazz that played with a who’s who in jazz from Dexter Gordon to Jimmy Raney and Eric Alexander to Tineke Postma.

On stage, the quiet and reserved Nelson says: “I like to play with everybody, young and old, but with these guys… (sighs). They are so experienced and know exactly what they are doing.” And then some. It is quite a team, full of interaction and balanced energy. Especially from playing a bit more together the last few years than in the past, the Teepe/Ineke tandem has become particularly tight-knit and flexible, Teepe’s way of making the music breathe quite phenomenal and Ineke’s succinct questioning-and-answering typically steady, dynamic and vivid.

All this is in evidence on the appropriately titled 2CD-set A Common Language. Fifteen standards, no less, and Nelson must have felt like a kid in a candy store, relishing the various melodies and changes of iconic tunes, and like a counterfeit passenger on a magic carpet, enjoying the ride with his top-rate colleagues from the Low-Lands. Whether it’s Bag’s Groove of Nelson’s iconic precursor Milt Jackson, De Paul/Raye’s Star Eyes, two standard ballads Embraceable You and Lover Man, or swing anthem Oh, Lady Be Good, Nelson is on a constantly creative level, pouring out vivacious and flowing lines like a tap dancer that’s swinging in the rainy streets of Storyville.

This set, indeed, is a city of versatile stories. Relentless trio drive marks Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise, while I Thought About You moves ever-so-slowly in a good groove, a version that is kickstarted by a gorgeous introduction on the vibraphone and finds Nelson in a pensive mood, as it were, in deep thought like Socrates on a rock on the Olympus. The slapping rockabilly bass of Teepe spurs on Monk’s Well, You Needn’t, which also includes one of Teepe’s finest solo spots.

It may not be, as stated in the liner notes, the first-ever album of vibraphone, bass and drums – rare as it is, at least there’s Khan Jamal’s 1986 Steeplechase album The Traveler that has explored this territory before. But it is an undeniable truth, as Ria Wigt from Timeless Records pointed out on stage at De Pletterij, that A Common Language is one of the best career efforts of the number one vibes player of his generation, with more than a little help from his exceptional Dutch friends.

Steve Nelson Trio

Scott Hamilton in Holland

SCOTT HAMILTON –

In December 2023 I reviewed Live At De Tor by Scott Hamilton and the Rein de Graaff Trio, a great disc of a performance by the acclaimed and swinging tenor saxophonist from 2004. See here. That was a Japanese release by Timeless Records, which has now released Live At De Tor worldwide. Also on vinyl.

A good opportunity to reunite. Hamilton and his Dutch colleagues, the swinging, ever-dependable Dutch maestros Rein de Graaff on piano, Marius Beets and Eric Ineke on drums embark on a tour in The Netherlands that starts on April 19 in Eindhoven and ends at Bimhuis, Amsterdam on May 2. See below.

19 april 24 Muziekgebouw – Eindhoven; www.mgehv.nl
21 april 24 Musicon – Den Haag; www.podiumdenieuwekamer.nl
22 april 24 Hnita Jazz Club – Heist op den Berg (Belgium); www.hnitajazzclub.be
24 april 24 Theater de Willem – Papendrecht; www.dewillem.nl
25 april 24 SPOT – Groningen; www.spotgroningen.nl
26 april 24 Theater Mystiek/De Tor – Enschede; www.jazzpodiumdetor.nl
28 april 24 Tivoli Vredenburg matinee concert – Utrecht; www.tivolivredenburg.nl
30 april 24 BIM Huis – Amsterdam; www.bimhuis.nl
1 mei 24 Nieuwe Kerk – Zierikzee; www.theatersaanzee.nl
2 mei 24 BIM Huis – Amsterdam; www.bimhuis.nl

Scott Hamilton & Rein de Graaff Trio

Find Live At De Tor on the website of Timeless here.

Red Rodney - Superbop

Red Rodney Superbop (Muse 1974)

Red alert.

Red Rodney - Superbop

Personnel

Red Rodney (trumpet), Sam Noto (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jimmy Mulidore (alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto flute), Dolo Coker (piano), Ray Brown (bass), Shelly Mann (drums)

Recorded

at Wally Heider Recording Studio in Los Angeles

Released

as MR 5046

Track listing

Side A:
Superbop
The Look Of Love
The Last Train Out
Side B:
Fire
Green Dolphin Street
Hilton


The crook or the outlaw does everything that you and I don’t dear dream of. He roams the country with a bunch of thieves and gypsies. Beats up a guy that throws plastic baskets from McDonalds out the window of his SUV on the freeway. He’s down and out and sleeps off hangovers on the beach. Understanding everything and nothing at the same time, he’s liable to brooding between stretches of high action. It’s what you would call ADHD nowadays, but in his world, the realm of Attila the Hun and Mickey Spillane, ADHD is just another painkiller on the market.

His whole life is a statement about the illusion of freedom. He’s hard as a brick except when it comes to animals. He lives by his wits and the sorrow of the world hangs on his lapels as backpacks on the coat racks in school. His life is a crust of blood on the forehead. Honor is his middle name. To the point of madness. He sometimes travels with his stepson. He says he’s the happiest man on earth and that’s the one thing that bothers his stepson’s mother. What bothers hím is that the further away he is from reality, the better he understands it.

Red Rodney knew all this. He lived a life that transcends the absurd. It is a life story that is well-known by the serious jazz fan, written down unforgettably by Gene Lees in his seminal book Cats Of Any Colors. Born Robert Roland Chudnick in Philadelphia in 1927, Rodney played in the bands of Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman before breaking through in the band of Charlie Parker. It was all bebop from that point on. As the only white member of the group, Rodney was billed as “Albino Red” during stints below the Mason Dixie line. Unfortunately, he also committed himself to the lifestyle of Bird and became a heavy user of heroin and assorted substances.

(Red Rodney; Charlie Parker & Red Rodney watching Dizzy play; Sam Noto, Rodney’s frontline partner on Superbop)

Beboppers were the cultural outlaws of the 1940’s. Often derided by conservative colleagues or critics, their music was not only an extreme jazz evolution, it also reflected the signs of the times, its seemingly frenzied but highly complex and structured sounds in sync with war and post-war upheaval and the acceleration of developments in American society. They were the underdog, people that were rock & roll before the term existed, people that, to paraphrase an evergreen, ‘couldn’t go home again’ although the one that formalized it, Dizzy Gillespie, ultimately was a dedicated family guy.

Rodney was far from home. Luckily, the trumpeter succeeded to survive while other boppers like Dick Twartzik, Serge Chaloff and Sonny Clark fatally overdosed, but after his long and successful stint with Parker, Rodney gradually dropped out of sight. He made a couple of records in the late 1950’s but generally took to theft to sustain his habits. Rodney immersed himself in swindling and fraudulent activities and took no half measures. At the height of his crookdom, Rodney conned various insurance companies for major sums of money and impersonated as a doctor in order to obtain and sell prescriptions. Grand schemes, as if the crew from Ocean Twelve was united in one person.

Rodney’s most outlandish adventure in the 1960’s was his impersonation as a USA Army general and robbing money and secret documents from the vault of an army base. It was only a matter of time before Rodney got caught, no matter how ingenious his games of hide and seek with the law. Rodney served several jail sentences, although his uncommonly special rapport with prison managers and other servants of the law stood him in good stead. Often, the disadvantaged institutions didn’t care for the publicity and confined to deals with the red-headed stranger. Note that the ‘gentle crook’ eschewed from robbing his fellow man/woman but instead focused on the anonymous establishment.

Rodney spent years in the pit bands in Las Vegas, while his teeth were in horrible condition, and this looked like the end of his jazz career, until he met a fine lady in the late 1970’s in New York City. She cleaned him up and Rodney obtained new dentures, enjoying a highly unexpected, minor comeback, functioning as an older and wiser mentor to many young lions and recording frequently until his death of cancer in 1994.

He apparently was in bad shape in the 1970’s. So, it’s quite surprising that Rodney did manage to make a couple of excellent records. His first album in 14 years in 1974, Bird Lives, was fine though had its share of weaker moments, but the follow-up from the same year, Superbop, was flawless from start to finish. Hi-octane, to boot. It coupled Rodney with fellow trumpeter Sam Noto, saxophonist Jimmy Mulidore, pianist Dolo Coker and the heavyweight rhythm section of bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne.

Of course, it would be hard to find a weak session when Ray Brown is aboard, giant of the double bass and the Big Boss Mann of the studio. So, that might be one of the main reasons that Superbop worked out so well. Rodney and Noto work together on the sparkling ensembles as Siamese twins and hunt each other in the choruses as foxes and rabbits. Interestingly, Noto is the first soloist on five of six tunes, which reveals the generosity of the veteran to the underrated Kenton and Basie-ite. This is fish in a barrel for Brown and Manne. Brown particularly, and typically, is a forceful presence, now and then walking in duet with Rodney, and providing great suspense to boot.

Superbop, a line that’s derived from the solo by Clifford Brown from Daahoud, thrives on the vitality of Rodney and Noto’s trumpet stylings. The vibe of Burt Bacharach’s The Look Of Love, featuring muted Rodney, is pleasantly reminiscent of Miles Davis. Dolo Coker seizes his Bud Powell-ish opportunity on the fast-pased Last Train Out, a Sam Noto tune. Rodney and Noto’s Fire is a rapidly expanding forest fire and it’s a line that reminds of Salt Peanuts. Plenty salty but predominantly oozing with the sharpness of chili pepper. The Latin-tinged treatment of Green Dolphin Street is no slouch either.

This is superbop indeed, fusion and synths and odd meter be damned. Though the modal mid-tempo Hilton, written by Mulidor, points out that Rodney was not stuck in rigid traditionalism. He’s just doing what he does best, thrivin’ on an unbeatable and rather riveting riff.

Listen to Superbop on YouTube here.

Eddie Harris - The In Sound

Eddie Harris The In Sound (Atlantic 1966)

Folk hero in his prime.

Eddie Harris - The In Sound

Personnel

Eddie Harris (tenor saxophone), Ray Codrington (trumpet A1, B1, B2), Cedar Walton (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)

Recorded

on August 9 & 25 in New York City

Released

as Atlantic 1448 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Love Theme From “The Sandpiper” (The Shadow Of Your Smile)
Born To Be Blue
Love For Sale
Side B:
Cryin’ Blues
‘S Wonderful
Freedom Jazz Dance


“El Cheapo.” That’s how Eddie Harris apparently called himself in the mid-1980’s. The tenor saxophonist was recording in the studio of engineer Max Bolleman in Monster in The Netherlands and Max was thinking that this was kind of weird. Harris introduced and continued to define himself as “El Cheapo.” His toying with various electronical devices, especially when broken down due to faulty wiring, was accompanied by self-deprecating remarks. “Oh yeah that figures, I’m ‘El Cheapo’”.

It is weird. Perhaps best ranked in the realm of irony? Chicago-born Eddie Harris started out with a big bang and enjoyed a major hit with his version of the theme song from the movie Exodus in 1960. A beautiful, breezy tune that showcased Harris’s upper register sounds of the tenor saxophone. He changed course in the mid-1960’s and followed his own path on the Atlantic label, recording a series of gritty avant-soul jazz records featuring amplified saxophone. Another unlikely hit was scored with the live Swiss Movement LP with pianist Les McCann in 1971. Okay, but to get back to irony, Harris subsequently released various surprising albums with r&b and vocals, among those the comedy album The Reason Why I’m Talking Shit. His best-known tune from the period is Eddie Who? Seriously funny tune. And ambiguous, mentioning various contributions of Harris to jazz. I remember when you used to play with Count Basie / That was Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis / My name is Eddie Harris / I’ve got one of your videos jack / That was Eddie Murphy / My name is Eddie Harris.

We haven’t forgotten you, Eddie. On the contrary. Which jazz musician has enjoyed two major hits in his career? He may have been under the radar in the latter part of his life. But various people have sung praise during his lifetime and since his death in 1996. Just a few examples, staying close to the premises of Flophouse Magazine. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander considered Harris’s solo on You’ll See on Jimmy Smith’s All The Way as the ‘best blues solo in F ever’. Swiss drummer Florian Arbenz recorded a different version of Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance on every issue of his twelve-LP saga Conversations. Finally, Dutch alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman praised Harris courageous crossover mentality, mentioning Mean Greens as one his favorite records.

Freedom Jazz Dance was featured on The In Sound, released in 1966. It was the first record after his mainstream period on VeeJay and Columbia that demonstrated a will to experiment, albeit not yet with ‘electric sax’ or various amplified instruments. It was the first album that put Harris’s thorough understanding of Coltrane’s playing in the limelight. The LP featured Cedar Walton, Ron Carter and Billy Higgins. Major-league company, in its prime.

Evidently, Freedom Jazz Dance is the album’s high-profile and lasting composition. It was famously covered by Miles Davis on Miles Smiles in 1967. It is still marvelous and fresh. If only for the tremendous groove, kickstarted by the gritty counter beats of Carter, Walton and Higgins, which is strengthened by the churchy pattern of the tambourine. Carter’s booming sound and long notes ring through the breaks like school bells. On top of all this is the playful, Ornette Coleman-ish melody. It’s hypnotic, it’s like being at a party that grows more cheerful and intense by the hour, like being among people with uncommonly good, uplifting vibes, merging in a trance in a dance in a buffalo stance.

Eddie blows a fuse. It’s the climax of a record that started with Harvey Mandel’s The Shadow Of Your Smile from The Sandpiper, Harris was asked to add another movie theme song and says in the liner notes that he said why not, making it his own with his typically punchy, no-nonsense tone and down-to-earth, well-paced phrasing. He blows a meaty ballad and a roaring blues and goes Gershwin, everything vivid and accessible. He’s pushing the envelope but giving people their money’s worth. A wild man, a kind of Rufus Thomas on sax.

He goes Porter with the hard-hitting Love For Sale, marked by an overwhelming tornado of notes, as if the sound of the heavy tread of the heavy feet from the lonesome cop that introduces the nocturnal endeavors of the tale’s world-wary prostitute in the red light district is washed away by the frenzied footsteps of a dozen violent gnomes.

Eventful transitional record by El Cheapo. Nothing cheap about it, mind you.

Cédric Caillaud - pic 1

Swinging The Melody

Parisian bass player Cédric Caillaud has very original and specific ideas about how to expand on the tradition. “There are plenty ways of creating new things in the standard repertoire.”

He will be back in New York next week. More than two decades ago, Caillaud, as ambitious young lions are wont, started to check out the Big Apple scene. Now he’s reached the age of forty-eight and takes along his teenage daughter for the trip down memory lane and a ride through the bowels of the asphalt jungle. “It’ll mostly be big fun and sight-seeing. But I will visit friends and go and see music at places like Small’s. I had a band with pianist Spike Wilner at one time. As the owner of Small’s, he is doing a great job for jazz.”

Regardless of his transatlantic connections and though Caillaud tours quite a bit in Europe, even as far as West-Africa, the La Rochelle-born bassist is firmly based in Paris. One of the most gorgeous places in the world, City of Light, City of Romance and for jazz buffs, forever linked with unsurpassed American expatriates as Kenny Clarke and Bud Powell, Paris is a place that has always had jazz running through its veins. At any given night, lone half note rangers and flocks of paradiddle-doers enter the premises of one of the beautific ‘arrondissements’, instrument case in hand, in the case of Caillaud, a big bag that holds his upright bass. He’s a staple of Chez Papa in St. Germain du Près and Le Petit Opportune nearby Les Halles.

A sought-after player that played and recorded with a variety of people from Scott Hamilton, Bobby Durham, René Urtreger to Manu Dibango, Natalie Dessay and Thomas Dutronc, Caillaud recorded four albums as a leader. A far cry from his beginnings in La Rochelle. “It is impossible in this region to be a professional musician. La Rochelle is a quiet and nice provincial town. But I was interested in music and started playing electric bass in the weekend. Your typical garagerock. Me and my friends loved the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I discovered Jaco Pastorius and Weather Report. That’s how I basically got into jazz. At that time, I didn’t know who they were. I thought that they were a bunch of young guys! It was only later that I learned that Wayne Shorter was a famous jazz musician and that Joe Zawinul had played in the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. I started going to the mediatheque and borrowing real jazz records. That’s when I changed to double bass.”

Caillaud is a strong bass player with a sound like a big woman that wears stockings and high-heeled boots made for walking. A tone that rattles the bottles behind the bar. A worthy contender in the lineage of Ray Brown, John Clayton, Pierre Boussaguet, he strives for a challenging combination of groove and confident intermezzi. “Essentially, I’m proposing another role of the bass. The evolution of double bass in popular music is very significant. It is a genuine solo instrument by now. Why not play melodies and solo’s? I love to let people discover the beauty of the double bass.”

Moreover, Caillaud makes it his business to carefully arrange all his projects, giving every of his four albums a distinct vibe and challenging allocation of roles whether it’s the hard-swinging Emma’s Groove or the lithe and airy With Respect To Jobim. “I want everything to have a live feeling, to give people music that lives and breathes. In order to achieve this, I use original arrangements and stress different colorings. That’s why on, for instance, the Jobim record, I featured flutist Hervé Mischenet. He’s a genuine flute player, not a saxophonist that plays flute on the side. And he used four different flutes to realize the coloring that I was looking for.”

Swinging The Count, featuring pianist Patrick Cabon and drummer Alvin Queen, serves as a top-notch, rather stunning example. Why this tribute to Count Basie? “Basie is a very important sound. Most people talk about Duke Ellington. And I love Duke Ellington. I play the Ellington book in the Duke Orchestra in France, a great orchestra. But Basie is about the essence. He didn’t read, played blues and gave a special feeling of happiness and exuberance. He played music from other composers but gave it his own identity. It’s pure swing. I have a lot of experience playing the Basie repertoire in great groups like drummer François Laudet’s big band. On Swinging The Count, it was a very great experience to play with the amazing Alvin Queen. He has a real black beat. My goal was to celebrate Count Basie’s music in trio form. That has never been done with this line-up. Oscar Peterson did quartet recordings and there’s the two Count Basie records with Ray Brown and Louie Bellson. I love the Basie recordings from the 1950’s and 1960’s because of the maturity of Basie and the sound of the bands. Amazing quality and great composers and arrangers like Quincy Jones and Neal Hefti.”

He’s the kind with good faith in mainstream jazz. “It’s perfectly possible to create new things in the mainstream repertoire. Essentially, jazz is very simple. It’s like Alvin Queen told me: ‘It’s just swing and melody!’ Of course, you can have different inspirations like African or Asian music or whatever and create a lot of things. But basically it’s all about context. I love someone like Benny Green. Each recording is always musical, lively and in the tradition.”

The generation of Caillaud, inspired by the resurgence of interest in classic jazz, music that had balls and grew from the earth like potatoes and cucumber and chili pepper, was embraced by the old guard. “It was important to me to play with older musicians and listen to their stories. I was friends with Pierre Michelot. He told me: ‘When I was young, I started to play with older musicians, I learned the repertoire and I learned to play. Then I became a veteran. But it was impossible to play with the young people in the 1980’s. They didn’t know the repertoire and only played their own compositions.’ It was frustrating for him to deal with the fusion period. But he was happy when my generation arrived.”

And now Caillaud spreads the word to inspiring youngsters around town. Lucky little boogers!

Cédric Caillaud

Discography:

  • June 26 (Aphrodite 2006)
  • Emma’s Groove (Aphrodite 2009)
  • Swinging The Count (Fresh Sound Records 2013)
  • With Respect To Jobim (Fresh Sound Records 2020)

Check out Cédric and his albums on Fresh Sound here.

Eran Har Even Shorter Days (World Citizen Music Records 2024)

NEW RELEASE – ERAN HAR EVEN

Shorter circuit? On the contrary.

Print

Personnel

Eran Har Even (guitar), Omer Govreen (bass), Wouter Kühne (drums)

Recorded

in February 2023 at Roode Bioscoop

Released

as World Citizen Music Records in 2024

Track listing

Lost
El Toro
The Big Push
One By One
Nefertiti
Dance Cadaverous
Capricorn
Night Dreamer


It’s not exactly armageddon that is conjured up by guitarist Eran Har Even on his tribute to Wayne Shorter, the greatest composer of the post-bop era. No mistaking, dark and ominous clouds are rolling. Brown leaves are dancing on the cobblestones like gypsies wandering over the moorland. Occasionally, the world is upside down, its blue and green resembling the colors of the head of someone who has been hanging out of the saddle of his horse on his way to the illusion of Eldorado. There’s tenderness and melancholy, a tear of sorrow, a tear of joy. This is how it should be on a record of Wayne Shorter compositions.

There is no piano to back up Even, an Amsterdam-based, Israeli axe man who played with Benny Golson, Gilad Hekselman, Jasper Blom, Logan Richardson and is a prolific partaker in the Dutch scene. His broad sound scape makes up for this suavely and he’s filling the canvas with nifty combinations of single runs and off-kilter harmonies. The tight-knit and flexible duo of Omer Govreen on bass and Wouter Kühne on drums brings out the best in Even.

There is a mixture of deceptive simplicity and challenging movements in Shorter’s compositions that is most appealing to jazz musicians, not least listeners. Obviously, Eran Har Even thoroughly comprehends the Shorter Book and re-created it to make an appealing piece of his own, whether it’s the stormy version of Lost or the lesser-known Capricorn, which swings freely and bites its own tail like a snake. Interestingly, the Juju album or anthemic Footprints is absent. He did pick the classic Nefertiti from the Miles Davis period and Night Dreamer, a great album climax that mixes nocturnal New York shadows with the whirling winds of the desert.

Eran Har Even

Find Shorter Days here.

Eddie Higgins - Soulero

The Eddie Higgins Trio Soulero (Atlantic 1965)

Fine pianist from the periphery of the jazz landscape recorded his third album on the incomparable Atlantic label.

Eddie Higgins - Soulero

Personnel

Eddie Higgins (piano), Richard Evans (bass), Marshall Thompson (drums)

Recorded

in 1965 at Universal Recording Corporation, Chicago

Released

as Atlantic 1446 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
Tango Africaine
Love Letters
Shelley’s World
Soulero
Side B:
Mr. Evans
Django
Beautiful Dreamer
Makin’ Whoopee


Eddie? You mean, the Eddie? Sure, man, you don’t have to tell me who is who. Eddie is a fine pianist, we used to hang at the Brass Rail, colorful guy.

Perhaps this is the question-and-answer query of quite a few jazz dinosaurs. Not mine though, to be honest. It was only after discovering Eddie Higgins on an online jazz forum that I started to listen to him and finally acquiring some of his records, including Soulero. And it was only after I started to dig into his career info that I found out, oh, it’s thís Eddie, I heard him but it somehow didn’t register. Because Mr. Higgins played on Lee Morgan’s Expoobident, Wayne Shorter’s Wayning Moments and Wes Montgomery’s One Night In Indy. That’s right. Not bad. By the way, the late Wayne Shorter asked him back for 2002’s All Or Nothing At All and 2013’s Beginnings.

It all started in Chicago for the Cambridge, Massachusetss-born Higgins. A pianist that was versed in swing and bop and led various bands in The Windy City opposite fellows like Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie and Wes Montgomery. He played with the likes of Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Oscar Peterson and Sonny Stitt and was the house pianist at the high-profile London House from 1957 to the late 1960’s. He made quite a few records in the USA with Milt Hinton, Rufus Reid, Ray Drummond. It seems that he was very popular in Japan, having released 20+ records on the Venus label with, among others, Scott Hamilton from 2000 till 2008. Where was I? I don’t have a clue. Probably, as cult country star and the world’s funniest whodunnit-writer Kinky Friedman would say, out there where the buses don’t run.

I was alert enough, though, to notice an online comment on Higgins by jazz buff and reviewer Randy L. Smith. Smith, based in Japan, saw him perform in Fukusaki in 2006 and 2007. He provided me with an interview with Higgins in Cadence, written by Dan Gould. Interestingly, Higgins, who lived in Florida by the time of the interview, tells of his surprising refusal to act upon the request of Art Blakey to join his band in 1960. It was just after Higgins’s feature on the Morgan album on October 14, 1960, which included the famed Buhaina. In theory, Higgins would join the then-current line-up of Morgan, Shorter and Jimmy Merritt and would be the replacement of Bobby Timmons. But he refused, seeing one huge plus – immediate acclaim and world-wide touring – but a lot of negatives: (with kind permission of Dan Gould)

“First of all I’ve got a great job here in Chicago in the London House and my kids were very little at that point. And the idea to be on the road all the time and not seeing my children grow up is a negative. Number two, this is pretty much an all-junkie band and I’m not only nót a junkie, I don’t even drink or smoke pot or anything at all. I would be out of the loop as far as the social life of the band, plus the fact that I’m the only White guy in the band. And at that time in jazz history there was a very strong Crow Jim feeling that if you’re White, you couldn’t play. And obviously they knew I could play or I wouldn’t be on these record dates or asked to join the band, but still there’d be a… definite racial bridge to cross there working with the Jazz Messengers and playing in probably mostly Black clubs for mostly Black audiences and so forth. And third, I heard by the grapevine that when payday came the first guy that got the money was the connection for the heroin, and not just Blakey but the rest of the band, too. And if there’s any money left over then they pay the hotel bill and if there’s anything left over from that then maybe the guys will get a few bucks. I had a family and rent to pay and insurance payments.”

Blakey replied: ‘You’re kidding’. Because as Higgins says, to get an offer from The Jazz Messengers is like being touched on the shoulder by God. In the end though, it seems a perfectly logical decision.

Atlantic somehow got wind of Higgins. Perhaps, Ahmet or Nesuhi Artegun were conscious of the fact that Higgins served as producer for Chess Records. Anyway, they got him in the Universal Recording Corporation studio in Chicago with his long-standing rhythm section of bassist Richard Davis and drummer Marshall Thompson.

Soulero was the end result. Hip sleeve. The look of love sells, doesn’t it. Atlantic was pushing Higgins in the direction of soul jazz. There is a decidedly Ramsey Lewis-style vibe. Richard Evans and Marshall Thompson were worthy and prolific contenders in the jazz business. They are sophisticated while working up quite a storm. There is a notable diversion of groove, divided between Higgins’s Tango Africaine, the ‘bolero’ of Soulero and the bass-driven swinger Mr. Evans. Folk melody Beautiful Dreamer and Bill Traut’s Shelley’s World represented the lighter touch of Higgins. A baroque introduction defines Love Letters. Higgins intriguingly works his way through the bridge of the iconic, John Lewis’s Django. Makin’ Whoopee is made into a nifty and entertaining flagwaver and is developed from nice ‘n’ easy to fast and, finally, furious Speedy Gonzales-tempo.

Certainly not a waste of time. The Ertegun Bros seemed to agree, as they released The Piano Of Eddie Higgins the following year, even going to the expense of adding an orchestra. They knew he was a fine pianist. But there are many fine pianists out there and Higgins seemed to have a knack of flying under the radar.

Listen to Soulero on YouTube here.