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Billy Higgins Dies at 65

Drummer Billy Higgins died Wednesday, May 2 in Inglewood, Calif. He was 65. In need of a liver transplant, Higgins caught pneumonia and was admitted to Daniel Freeman Hospital on April 23. Doctors released Higgins from the intensive care unit on April 28, saying there was nothing more they could do to help.

Higgins started playing as an R&B and rock drummer, but an association with Don Cherry and James Clay in the ’50s turned his ambitions toward jazz. Initially an adept bebop player, Higgins was hired by Ornette Coleman in the mid-1950s to help him mold the shape of jazz to come. Appearing on Coleman’s controversial Free Jazz album in 1960 brought Higgins into the limelight as an adaptable drummer who could play nearly any musical style. Throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, Higgins worked with many monumental jazz figures including Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Donald Byrd, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, Milt Jackson, Cedar Walton and Pat Metheny.

The transplanted liver Higgins received five years ago began to show signs of severe damage in October 2000. In February, friends and fans began a support effort to raise money for Higgins’ medical bills, holding benefit concerts around the country. Higgins had been on a waiting list for another liver transplant since February 5.

Originally Published