Eddie Higgins, 1932-2009

Eddie Higgins died yesterday of lung cancer. Those who knew him called him by his given name, Haydn. He was a pianist of uncommon sensitivity, taste, subtlety and adaptability. He was equally accomplished and enthusiastic working with singers (hisHiggins head shot.jpg wife is Meredith d’Ambrosio), traditional bands (he unabashedly enjoyed the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee) and fiery young bebop lions (he wrote “Expoobident” for Lee Morgan and played on Morgan’s album of that name).
His admirer and sometime colleague Ben Riley, the drummer, said, “Eddie Higgins is on the same level of excellence as Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan and the other grand masters of modern jazz piano.” There is evidence on this CD with Riley and bassist Ray Drummond. Higgins worked about as much as he wished to, but was less well known in the United States than in Japan, where American jazz pianists are adored and Higgins had special standing. The Japanese summoned him frequently for tours and he recorded prolifically for the Japanese market. Some of the CDs he made for the Venus label are becoming available in the US; see this item in Doug’s Picks.
There is surprisingly little of Higgins on video. This clip from the 2007 Sacramento festival gives an idea of his quiet, engaging ways and an appreciation of the harmonic life he breathed into everything he played.

Eddie Higgins, RIP

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  1. John Birchard says

    Your choice of “America the Beautiful” for Eddie Higgins’ departure statement was lovely. Old-fashioned patriotism cloaked in sophisticated harmonies… sort of a Chicago version of Ray Charles’ same sentiment. And at the close of the video, Higgins acknowledges someone off camera with a smile and his right hand forming a pistol, his thumb the hammer, as he “shoots” a greeting. Perfect.

  2. says

    He was a true gentleman of jazz. I had the pleasure of working with Eddie several times over the past 20 years and every occasion was like being gifted with the opportunity of sharing wonderfully creative and crafted moments. When we’d talk on break I remember most his aura of ambassadorship for the world of jazz. It wasn’t in what he said but in the way he purported himself. He was also one of the few people I’ve know that insisted on keeping the art of writing hand written letters to his friends and contemporaries alive. I’m quite certain it wasn’t because he wasn’t computer savvy. My thoughts today will be with Meredith his soulmate and gifted jazz vocalist. Carry on…just keep carrying on.

  3. BigTimeSwingFan says

    Very sad news….Eddie Higgins had style & taste, and that almost blessed inner talent for editing what he played and how he played it – a talent sorely lacking in so many performers.
    On top of that, every time we spoke together, he was a gentleman.
    Jazz – and music as a whole – could use a lot more artists like Eddie Higgins.

  4. Red Colm O'Sullivan says

    Eddie Higgins is one of my favorite personal favorites. I first became aware of his great brilliance, here in Ireland, on a live recording done in Florida with Sonny Stitt, Lockjaw and Sweets, and I only wish I could have heard him live. He had no business dying.

  5. Cyd d'Ambrosio says

    In our hearts forever,
    Gone but not forgotten
    Clear minded and responsible
    till the end
    A brilliant piano player
    and someone who loved my mom
    till eternity
    And it was definitley death
    by chocolate
    Thanks to God his suffering is over

  6. Gary Kleinhans says

    It is a sad day for jazz fans. Eddie was scheduled to play on 9/13 in Madison WI and I was looking forward to it. It is 46 years ago that I first heard Eddie at the London House in Chicago and have followed him ever since. He was truly one of the unsung great pianist of the generation and a total gentleman at all times. My sympathies to Meredith.

  7. Emmalyne Castillo, Hadyn Higgins granddaughter says

    To me Haydn Higgins was grandpa, he was a kind and gentle
    soul. He loved to sail and I loved his boats. My grandma
    (Meredith d’Ambrosio) and grandpa always made summers
    so fun for me and my brothers in Cape Cod. I miss him
    deeply and I am comforted to know his suffering is over.
    I always felt safe with him, I will never forget the piggy
    back rides, the love he showed us all and the way he had an
    answer for all my curious questions. He is gone but his spirit
    will remain in our hearts along with his beautiful music.

  8. Jim R says

    Taste. Technique. Range. Class. Swing. Humor. Passion. Style. Elegance. Clarity. Beauty. Eddie Higgins.
    Thanks for giving us so much wonderful music, Mr. Higgins. Condolences to all of Eddie’s friends and family, and thank you for sharing some of your memories with us.

  9. Valerie Bishop says

    my love and sincere condolences to Meredith and their family. i am grateful that i got to enjoy his beautiful talent and his presence on a few occasions.

  10. Diane Mitchell says

    I always spoke of Eddie Higgins as one of my all-time favorite jazz pianists. He played at my house parties in the 1990s. His gentle touch and sensitivity spoke to my heart. He was a wonderful accompanist for his wife Meredith and I loved them both for the haunting beauty of their music together. Red and Eddie must be together now in that spiritual sphere.

  11. Ken Dryden says

    I’m very saddened to learn of Eddie Higgins’ passing. He was a terrific pianist and I’m glad that I heard him at the Atlanta Jazz Party a few years ago. My condolences to Meredith and his family.

  12. Joan Hasselbach says

    Sublime is one of the few words that could even begin to come close to describing Eddie’s style of playing. Listening to him was like getting an “aural” massage. One would always come away feeling soothed, refreshed and happy to have been in the presence of such brilliance. I felt cheated if I didn’t get to hear him play on his yearly trip to his home here in Fort Lauderdale. My hugs go out to Meredith and and my condolences to the rest of the family. Meredith, you brought so much into his life.
    Besides his musical mastery, Eddie had a fabulous sense of humor with a full arsenal of “musicians ” jokes. One of my favorites was his retelling of an actual occurrence after a night in ,I believe, one of Chicago’s jazz clubs. He and his friend Eddie Wiggins were leaving and were involved in a minor fender bender. The policeman that came to the scene asked them their names. “Well, I’m Eddie Higgins” and “I’m Eddie Wiggins” The hilarity that ensued when the policeman didn’t believe them was a classic!
    Eddie, your music and your humor will be sorely missed.

  13. Sheri Brooks Garlock says

    My heart breaks to hear of the passing of my dear friend and teacher. I had, only moments before hearing the news, been thinking of him and writing his name on my calendar to see him perform on Dec. 9 with the Gold Coast Jazz concert series. I hadn’t seen him in far too long and really looked forward to hearing his one of a kind artistry again. I believe wholeheartedly that Eddie Higgins is truly one of the all time great jazz pianists……a master of modulation and harmony with an effortless technique. Eddie would make your heart soar as he took a tune through all sorts of key changes in the most unique and surprising ways. He never settled for the “expected” harmonic changes. I feel so fortunate to have spent time with him back when we shared a gig at The Down Under restaurant. He also gave me several piano lessons one summer which progressed into joyous jam sessions. What an honor! He was a constant source of encouragement and inspiration to me. Meredith…..you were the song in his heart. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Eddie…your music lives on in our hearts forever.

  14. Laura Hoogenboom says

    I first heard Eddie play at the Elkhart Jazz Festival in 2002. I was dating a guy who loved jazz piano. I was new in this area. Long story short, we fell in love that weekend and I believe much of it was fueled by the passion of Eddie’s music. A year later we hired him to play at our wedding – and invited Meredith to join him as well. It was a magical wedding, more like a beautiful jazz concert than anything. We had dinner with Eddie a few months before the wedding and he asked me for a song list. When I included “Say It Isn’t So” from one of his solo albums he refused – he said it would jinx us. He was so dear, kind, and witty. We followed him to Jazz festivals, gigs in Ft. Lauderdale, and on the Cape…he would always say hello followed by, “So, you guys are still married, huh?” I almost sank his sailboat getting in it out in the bay one summer when we went to visit….how embarrassing. But, in true graceful form he just helped me and laughed with me. I loved this man more than he could ever know and am so sad he is gone. But, I have his music, memories, and a wedding album full of wonderful pictures of him. RIP Eddie. I send my love and prayers to the family and Meredith…….he was the greatest and I pray for your peace.

  15. says

    Eddie ( Haydn) Higgins was one of the best jazz pianists who ever lived. Moreover, he was a friend of mine and Piano Showcase, Inc. As a jazz vocalist, I feel privileged to be a singer whom he accompanied. Also honored that he was my friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family and his wonderful and talented wife, Meredith d’Ambrosio.
    South Florida was indeed privileged that for years he made his winter home in the area. He will be missed by many lovers and players of jazz. He was a giant in jazz and a very warm and classy gentleman.

  16. says

    I had the pleasure of taking piano lessons from Eddie and Meredith. Some of my fondest memories are being at their house and Eddie would be teaching me something and Meredith would correct us from the kitchen. We laughed our heads off. He would have me play something that I knew and he would laugh at my chords. He thought it was a riot. How I loved that man.
    When he agreed to do a jazz CD with me I was thrilled and scared to death. I mean I was working with Eddie Higgins. It is still my favorite CD.
    His jokes and sense of humor were adorable..He always had a bunch of new jokes every time I saw him. Eddie Higgins we will miss you and feel so blessed that you graced us with your incredible talent and love.

  17. Bob Frank says

    I first met Eddie about 12 years ago in a club which was much to modest for a man of his talent. He was with a long time friend of his and the late jazz singer Betty Dixon.The both of them were the kindest and most talented pair I have ever seen locally in South Florida.We all became friends and Eddie and Betty performed at my house several times for holiday parties. I also have seen them both on many other occasions performing. But as a jazz pianist Eddie really had it. He was a wonderful guy and I will never forget the night we all jammed at my house with several classical musicians.We will all miss this great talent,thanks Eddie.

  18. Brad Lewin says

    I never heard Eddie Higgins. I only have several of his wonderful Cds on Venus, which are full of beauty, great skill and musicianship. It is with great sadness that I have heard of his passing but his music will live on and my one big regret is that I didn’t get to hear him play in person.

  19. Terry Beardsley says

    I saw Eddie Higgins on my first jazz cruise with my Mom in 2001 and have had the pleasure of hearing him on every one since. I have many of his CDs and used some of his music for a memorial video of my mother who passed away in 2008. I am grateful to my Mom for introducing me to the wonderful world of jazz, and to Eddie for playing such beautiful music that I will listen to for years to come. He will be missed by so many of us this year on the jazz cruise…….I will certainly miss his solo piano set which has always been one of my favorite parts of the cruise.

  20. says

    I just read this news and I am stunned. Eddie was a real gentleman. He and I played for years together and made a couple of recordings. He was a wonderful pianist and human being. I will miss him!

  21. Marie Alexandre says

    I just discovered that Eddie Higgins has died. I worked with Eddie during the early 80’s. He was the house piano player at Bubba’s in Fort Lauderdale. He got a gig in North Miami and asked me to be the vocalist. An honor, to say the least. I remember Eddie…

  22. Bart says

    My Friend Eddie: I grieve today. Your spirit, your candor and your gift to the world of music; a superlative. Those hands moving like a ballet dancer over the keys of the piano; soft and soothing like rain then quick and fast like a horse at the Kentucky Derby. The magic of those adept fingers touching the black and the white to produce such exquisite sounds. I am at such a loss of words to describe this wonderful man. I adored him in all his gentle elegance.

  23. SIS NICHOLSON says

    I’ve been on 20 Jazz cruises and the thought that I’d be seeing Eddie Higgins made it that much more exciting for me. I have one of his discs in my car cd player and play it ALL the time…I’ll miss his friendliness and his great piano style.

  24. Jane Macdonald says

    For the scores of fans who enjoyed Eddie’s work with his jazz trio over many summers at The Popponesset Inn on Cape Cod, this is unexpected and heartbreaking news. Eddie was the consummate professional who brought technical mastery, intelligence, and intuitive genius to his interpretations and original works. Focused and invested in each choice, present in every moment, Eddie did it all with his trademark cool and ease. His generosity and sense of adventure were evidenced by the delight he took in collaboration – rehearsed or extemporaneous – be it with vocalists or other musicians across a vast spectrum of genres. Audiences’ surrendered to Eddie’s musical forays, and his smile lit up that room, Like all performing arts, his sessions were “written on water” yet they remain engraved in the memories that we- the lucky ones – keep safe in our hearts. The music, like Eddie, sails on. Amen.
    My heartfelt condolances to Meredith, who brought joy, inspiration and completness to Eddie’s life. Theirs was a dream duet.
    Jane Macdonald, Provincetown, MA

  25. Gloria Czerniejewski says

    I will surely remember Eddie’s great performance in Chicago @ the Back Room and in Ft. Lauderdale. My sincere condolences to you Meredith as well as to family and friends.

  26. Rozane Price Bey-McCurdy says

    I just received news of this sad news today. My deepest sympathies go out to Eddie’s (Hadyn’s) loving family, loved ones and legions of loyal fans. He was a warm & caring person exemplified by his talent and good nature. Although he will be missed on this plane, hopefully generations – both past & future will carry on his style and interpretations so all will always carry a bit of him with us where ever we go.
    “Bye, Bye Blackbird”

  27. Jim Griffith says

    I am saddened to learn of Eddie Higgins” passing. I only discovered him through recordings in the last year. I have never seen him in person. Where was I? I was born in 1927 in NYC area.
    He was a superb artist, so sensitive, so clever and innovative in his piano voicings. I have three of his CD albums.
    My favorites are “Stairway to the Stars” and “Zigeuner”.
    Jim ( a friend you never met)

  28. Colm O'sullivan says

    I just thought I’d report a nice and nourishing experience I had last week in (of all places) Rio de Janeiro. While lunching in a very nice hotel in the Flamengo district I was entranced with the great record being played as background… I decided to enquire as to what I was hearing, frankly expecting not much response to my enthusiasm, but the man – who turned out to be the manager of the “Hotel Novo Mundo”, beamed and proudly (very proudly) said “Eddie Higgins! Eddie Higgins!” (I will admit I thought it may have been Hank Jones at his best!). I know Mr. Higgins loved Brasillian music, so it’s nice to know that they love him here too.
    Also, and very unfortunately, timely too, as his sudden death in November is still, I know, leaving the London scene is a state of shock and loss, the great British bassist, Jeff Clyne, in a duo record with the fine, fine guitarist Phil Lee (of Rosemary Clooney, Michel LeGrand, Jimmy Smith, Ron Carter…) has also put me in mind of Eddie Higgins with a beautiful version of Higgins’ own song “Mar Descancado”. It’s on their tasty guitar/bass duets record “Twice Upon A time” on the English Cadillac label, where, as every tune is a carefully chosen gem – no wonder they hit upon this little Higgins treasure (elsewhere recorded sumptuously by Buddy DeFranco, if memory serves correctly).
    I will admit, since leaving Ireland nearly a month ago, I have not been able to read Rifftides, so I don’t know if you were able to give notice of Jeff Clyne’s passing, and his wonderful achievements (he made many – at least 3 – records with Blossom Dearie, as well as being on so many of the classic recordings in British jazz history – my favourites are those with pianist Gordon Beck, but he’s there too on “Under Milk Wood” by Stan Tracey and Tubby Hayes’ unbeatable big band classic “100% Proof”). Here are a few links detailing Jeff Clyne:
    He was a wonderful man. I know London is reeling.

  29. Ricky Pang says

    I just wondering that what’s going on with Mr higgins. There is no new album release lately. And check it by google. I cannot believe that Eddie Higgins is passed away.
    I always look forward to watch his live but seems no one will invite him to Hong Kong.
    I just knew him from cd call ‘speak of love’ when I try to listen jazz. And then I start to love to listen jazz because of Eddie.
    And I will miss him.
    thank you that your beautiful piano music rich my life.

  30. Joe Petrone says

    I first met Eddie when we were both playing clubs in Cape Cod in the 1970’s. My job ran later so Eddie would show up for my last set and sit in so I could sing with his playing. What a pleasure. We stayed in touch for the nexr thirty years. He was a dear friend and I will miss him.

  31. Conrad says

    Just a very behind-the-times fan; I only now (11/8/2010) learned of Eddie’s passing. What an enormous loss; he gave us all so many gifts . . .

  32. Patrick Mages says

    “Time is so old and love’s so brief, love is pure gold and time’s a thief.” I wandered into the London House in Chicago. It may have been 1968 or 69. I was a young kid, first job, just out of Army and school. I had dreamed of sitting in the London House and digging whatever jazz happened to be on the bill. Imagine how thrilled I was to sit at the bar, drink a very exotic Lowenbrau and listen to the intermission pianist with the ready smile and the brilliant soft touch. A bit naive–I thought Eddie was the main act. I became an instant Eddie Higgins fan. I was very surprised when he sat down with me and wanted to know who I was. Months later I walked into the Back Room on Rush. Eddie was there with drummer Marshall Thompson, the loveliest of drummers, and bassist Richard Evans, a gifted arranger. I sat at the piano bar and Eddie looked at me and said, “It’s the kid from Wisconsin.” How did he do that? Eddie was brilliant, just brilliant. I’m am so very sad that I will not be able to see him perform again. I thought he would live forever. I last saw him on a Jazz cruise with Don Wilner, one of the very best, about ten years ago. We talked about the Chicago days and he smiled a lot. Thank you Mr. Higgins, you touched so many of us.