In Chicago's musical history, jazz piano starts with Nat "King" Cole and the unmistakable keyboard style he developed here in the 1930s before gaining fame and fortune as a pop singer. In the 50s such iconically Chicago pianists as Ahmad Jamal and Ramsey Lewis borrowed from Cole a featherweight touch, as well as an unusual and distinctive use of space. Eddie Higgins, the Massachusetts native who in those years was studying music at Northwestern, embodies another aspect of the Cole/Chicago legacy. Cole's style seemed to fit more or less between swing and bebop; Higgins has expanded on that versatility, with a piano persona that combines swing rhythms, bop harmonies, and some postbop textures and voicings. It constitutes a short history of piano jazz--highlighted by the spectacular filigreed ornamentations that grow naturally out of Higgins's bouncy attack--and it results in eminently satisfying music. Higgins's solos hover between the swing era's almost profligate riff-spinning and the balance and flow of later jazz. But don't stop listening when he stops soloing. Few pianists make as much of accompanying others as Higgins: he manages to construct complete statements in the shadows, without so much as a hint of intrusion on the main event. Higgins lives primarily in Florida these days, and returns to Chicago on a semiannual basis; hearing him only twice a year seems a hardship, but it'll have to do. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul Hoeffler.