Our Man Higgins
Sunday, May 3rd, 2009
When you speak of Billy Higgins, you are speaking about the most recorded Jazz drummer that has ever sat behind a drum kit. Not only was he the most recorded, but also the most versatile drummer playing both inside and outside of this music. Not only did a steady rain fall on Mount Vernon May 3rd 2009, but the date marked eight years since the loss of "Our Man Higgins (May 3rd 2001). The steady rain of the day couldn't dampen the happenings inside the BassLine this Sunday afternoon when "Very Truly Yours" dedicated another "Sunday Serenade" to the memory of Billy Higgins. A crowd of Jazz devotees came out to celebrate the life of their man Higgins and did they ever have reason to celebrate.

Not only do the musicians that take the bandstand have to be creative, but sometimes the producers have to be just as creative. "Very Truly Yours" found out just how creative you have to be when two of the original members of the band had to be replaced. Greg Bandy was replaced by drummer Chuck McPherson and Abraham Burton was replaced the day before with a young Tenor Saxophonist out of Hartford, Connecticut named Jovan Alexandre. With a young Bruce Harris on trumpet, Benito Gonzalez on piano and the gifted Santi Debriano on bass this quintet gave the BassLine audience a lot to cheer about.

The opening number was the swinging Hank Mobley original called "The Break Through". From his first solo you knew the young man from Hartford was special and for a cat who is only twenty years old he had a presence and a tone that made you wonder what is in the water in Hartford . Benito followed Jovan with a solo that had him rising off his seat and dancing and smiling all over the keyboard and you wondered what he was going to throw at you next. Santi followed that with a solo that let everyone know he was going to have a ball being part of this rhythm section, but after all we are speaking about one of the great bassist that this music has. The next tune was an original by Dexter Gordon called "Cheese Cake". Dexter was very instrumental in bringing Billy Higgins into Jazz and finally convinced him that he needed to come to New York. Talking about Dexter you could tell that Jovan was well aware of Dexter from his opening solo on this piece. During Jovan's solo I couldn't help but notice Santi looking at Jovan wanting to say, "you can't be only twenty" . The next tune featured Jovan on the beautiful ballad "In A Sentimental Mood". This is a young man that has a command of his horn that is truly remarkable. How does someone so young play a ballad with that much feeling is beyond me.

Some of the other tunes that were played were "Our Man Higgins" and "Totem Pole" that featured a marvelous bow solo by Santi Debriano both written by Lee Morgan. The quintet closed the program with the Cedar Walton composition "Firm Roots". As Chuck (Mr. Rhythm) McPherson explained to me later "those were some Firm East Coast Roots". It's so amazing to think that these musicians got together an hour before the concert began and created some of the best music I have ever heard. This music is very hard to play and to see and feel what takes place at these "Sunday Serenades" is just magic. Like our photographer Rodney Dash said after this dedication to "Our Man Higgins". "I guess if this was a working band the heads of these tunes could be tighter, but the way these cats play off of each other is what makes this music so great". I feel that a special word has to be said about Chuck McPherson. I have to say that each and every time I hear him I wonder how a cat can sound as good as he and not be on more bandstands. I'm sure that Santi Debriano would agree with me when I say "this is a cat that swings and has rhythms going without ever losing sight of what a drummer is suppose to do". I know Billy was happy that his friend Chuck McPherson was the drummer for this "Sunday Serenade". Which brings us to Mr. Benito Gonzalez. This is a pianist that comes to play and thoroughly enjoys what he is doing. His solos take you to places you can only dream of and the nice thing about the trips is that he makes sure you enjoy the ride . Bruce Harris was put in a tough spot having to put the music together. This is a cat that will be heard from a lot in the future and is right now one of the badest cats on trumpet that this music has. This quintet made us all remember what a wonderful spirit Billy Higgins was and how much he is missed. I know one thing for sure these concerts make you look forward to the next Sunday Serenade.
- Arnie Perez
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