Jazz Pianist Eddie Higgins

Backstage With Bruce Klauber

Jazz pianist Eddie Higgins, one of the most consistent, versatile and swinging pianists in jazz history--long a legendary fixture on the Chicago jazz scene, died of lung cancer at the age of 77 on August 31 in Fort Lauderdale.

Higgins, among other things, had the unenviable position of being the "house" pianist at Chicago's fondly-remembered London House from the late 1950s through the late 1960s. This club was a "piano room" like no other, and Higgins often had to play opposite the likes of Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner, Ramsey Lewis and many more.

So complete was his artistry, however, that, according to the pianist who followed him, Judy Roberts, "A lot of times, the main act did not want to follow him...or shouldn't have.

"He was brilliant and had tons of chops without being flamboyant, he had gorgeous facility, and he was high-class all the way. He never resorted to any cheap tricks. He was flawless."

Stylistically, he was timeless, equally at home with genres from traditional to bop. Indeed, artists ranging from Jack Teagarden to Wayne Shorter wanted to record with him. Art Blakey begged him to go on the road at a part of his Jazz Messengers.

Art and Eddie. Now that would have been something.

After leaving Chicago, Mr. Higgins divided his time between homes in Cape Cod and Fort Lauderdale and continued to perform and record regularly, often in tandem with his wife, singer Meredith d'Ambrosio. In the late 1970s, he could often be found playing at Bubba's jazz club near the Fort Lauderdale beach. Always the gentleman--as a player and as a human being--he always had time for everyone, whether friends, fans or students.

He played the way he was: Elegantly.

His ashes will be scattered in Cape Cod.

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