By Lee Mergner
The versatile pianist Eddie Higgins died Aug. 31 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. He was 77 years old. The cause of death was cancer. Higgins was born and raised in Cambridge, Mass., and started playing piano when he was just 4 years old. After attending Andover Prep where his father taught, Higgins left for Chicago to attend Northwestern University. He proceeded to spend his formative years as a professional musician in that city, working with a veritable who’s who of mainstream jazz.
For one span of more than 10 years, Higgins and his trio served as the house band at the London House in Chicago, frequently playing on bills with the greats of jazz, such as Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and many others. During his time in Chicago he also recorded as a sideman on various recordings led by jazz players of nearly every style, including Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Al Grey and Jack Teagarden. A quintessential sideman, Higgins recorded sporadically in the ’60s as a leader for small labels like Vee-Jay, Replica and Atlantic. Moving back to the New England area in 1970, Higgins settled in Cape Cod and gigged as a solo pianist and bandleader. He later formed a partnership, both personal and professional, with the singer Meredith D’Ambrosio, whom he married in 1988. Over the years, the two recorded both together and separately for Sunnyside, as well as Venus, generally releasing about one CD per year since 1990, including Christmas CDs in 2004, 2005 and 2008. In a review for JazzTimes in 1997, Doug Ramsey called Higgins’ third album for Sunnyside, Portrait in Black and White, “one of the most impressive piano trio albums in recent memory.” And, he added, “Higgins is less a stylist than a brilliant generalist who ranges through the history of the music, selecting, winnowing and refining. He has long since melded his touch, voicings, relaxation, inventiveness and natural swing into an approach that draws from all eras of jazz piano without being tied to any of them. Rather than blandness, his eclecticism brings to his improvisations focus, definition and purpose.” D’Ambrosio and Higgins became staples of the mainstream jazz parties, as well as the jazz cruises. In fact, the couple wintered in the Ft. Lauderdale area, not far from the embarkation point of many of the cruises. In 2006, The Jazz Cruise inducted Higgins into their Hall of Fame. A very literate man, Higgins sometimes wrote his own liner notes in a wry, self-effacing style.
Higgins’ ashes will be spread by his home in Cape Cod, Mass.