Jazz Performance: Beating time

After spending the past six decades playing with jazz greats around the world, pianist Eddie Higgins brings his trio to Tel Aviv.

Jazz pianist Eddie Higgins has been around, and back. Almost 76, Higgins - who will perform with his trio tonight in Tel Aviv - admits to hailing from another era. "I am a dinosaur," he says simply in a telephone interview from his Florida home. "I have been playing jazz for 57 years, and I've seen a lot of changes, but I stick to the mainstream." In fact, Higgins culls his influences from even earlier temporal domains. "I started my jazz experiences with bebop. Then it occurred to me that something so complex could not possibly be where jazz came from. So I started delving back into Swing and then 1920s jazz. I became familiar with all the jazz styles, from the Twenties to the Fifties. My peers didn't have that knowledge, so that gave me something of an advantage over them." As a resident of Chicago through the 1950s and 1960s, Higgins enjoyed a 12-year berth at the Windy City's London House, and accrued some rich playing experience. "That was a great time to be in Chicago," he recalls. "The jazz scene was really lively back then. I played with lots of the greats - guys like [saxophonist] Stan Getz, [recently deceased pianist] Oscar Peterson and [trumpet legend] Dizzy Gillespie." One of Higgins' most memorable - and strange - synergies was with saxophone icon Coleman Hawkins at the first Playboy Jazz Festival, held at the Chicago Stadium in 1959. "There was a revolving stage with one band behind a sort of partition getting ready while another one played. Our band was there, but Hawkins only arrived from the airport 15 minutes before we were supposed to start our set. I suggested some numbers we could play, but Hawkins just grunted and shrugged. Still, it worked out alright. There were 19,000 people in the audience. That's not much by today's rock-concert standards, but it's the biggest audience I ever had. When the show was over, Hawkins left without saying a word to us." Although Higgins says he prefers to stay within the confines of mainstream American jazz, he does profess a liking for Latin inflections, and will include some Brazilian material in his show this evening. "I never got into [late Sixties-early Seventies jazz-rock style] fusion. For me that is 90 percent rock and 10% jazz. I loved Miles [Davis]'s stuff from the 1940s and 1950s, but he lost me after that." Some jazz musicians, like legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, ventured into freer-form avant garde jazz in the Sixties. Higgins wants nothing to do with that. "Free jazz sounds like fire-in-a-pet-shop music," he states bluntly. Some argue that jazz should move with the times, but that's not a mindset to which Higgins subscribes. "I don't like the more contemporary jazz music, but that's okay. Like politics or religion, everyone has their own set of beliefs, or preferred musical styles." Despite traversing the world several times over almost six decades, this will be Higgins' first visit to Israel. "Until recently I wasn't aware there was a jazz scene in Israel at all. I'm looking forward to learning something about that." Eddie Higgins will perform at the Opera House in Tel Aviv tonight at 10 p.m. with bassist Paul Keller and drummer Ed Match Jr. For more information, call (03) 692-7777.