Billy Higgins was born on October 11, 1936 in Los Angeles, California. A jazz drummer who mainly played free jazz, he played on Ornette Coleman’s first records, beginning in 1958 and then freelanced extensively with hard bop and post-bop players. He was one of the house drummers for Blue Note Records and played on dozens of Blue Note albums of the 1960s. On a whole, he played on over 700 recordings, including recordings of rock and funk, and appeared as a jazz drummer in the 2001 movie Southlander.
Tipping his hat into the educator ring, in 1989 Higgins cofounded a cultural center, The World Stage, in Los Angeles to encourage and promote younger jazz musicians. The center provides workshops in performance and writing, as well as concerts and recordings. He also taught in the jazz studies program at the University of California, Los Angeles. Drummer Billy Higgins passed away of kidney and liver failure on May 3, 2001 at age 64 in Inglewood, California.
He left a legacy of music, having recorded eight albums as a leader and his sideman duties had him performing and recording with a who’s who list of musicians including but not limited to Gene Ammons, Robert Stewart, Chris Anderson, Gary Bartz, Paul Bley, Sandy Bull, Jaki Byard, Donald Byrd, Joe Castro, Don Cherry, Sonny Clark, George Coleman, John Coltrane, Bill Cosby, Stanley Cowell, Ray Drummond, Teddy Edwards, Booker Ervin, Art Farmer, Curtis Fuller, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Grant Green, Charlie Haden, Slide Hampton, Herbie Hancock, Barry Harris, Eddie Harris, Jimmy Heath, Joe Henderson, Andrew Hill, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Paul Horn, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, J. J. Johnson, Hank Jones, Dave Holland, Sam Jones, Clifford Jordan, Fred Katz, Steve Lacy, Charles Lloyd, Pat Martino, Jackie McLean, Charles McPherson, Pat Metheny, Blue Mitchell, , Red Mitchell, Hank Mobley, Thelonious Monk, Lee Morgan, Bheki Mseleku, David Murray, Horace Parlan, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Art Pepper, Dave Pike, Jimmy Raney, Sonny Red, Freddie Redd, Joshua Redman, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Rouse, Pharoah Sanders, John Scofield, Shirley Scott, Archie Shepp, Sonny Simmons, Sonny Stitt, Idrees Sulieman, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Bobby Timmons, Mal Waldron, Cedar Walton, Don Wilkerson, David Williams and Jack Wilson, among others.
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Horacee Arnold was born Horace Emmanuel Arnold on September 25, 1937 in Wayland, Kentucky. The drummer first began playing in 1957 in Los Angeles, California while holding down a position in the Coast Guard. It was in 1959, he began performing as “Horacee” when he joined the David Baker big band, and also played with Roland Kirk and Charles Mingus that year. In 1960 he became the drummer in a trio with Cecil McBee and Kirk Lightsey.
By the 1960s he was working with pianist and composer Hasaan Ibn Ali and Henry Grimes, and in 1964 with The Bud Powell Trio at Birdland. Horace also performed as part of the Alvin Ailey American Dance company on a tour of Asia. The late Sixties saw him performing with Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba.
Continuing his education Arnold studied composition under Heiner Stadler, Hy Gubenick, and classical guitar with Ralph Towner. In 1967 he founded his own ensemble, The Here and Now Company, with Sam Rivers, Karl Berger, Joe Farrell, and Robin Kenyatta in tow.
The 1970s was when Arnold became one of the best-known jazz fusion drummers, playing and recording with Return to Forever, Stan Getz, Archie Shepp and Billy Harper. During this period of his career he released two of his own solo albums. He later formed a three-ensemble called Colloquium III with Billy Hart and Freddie Waits.
In the 1980s Arnold became an educator conducting workshops at the New York Drummers’ Collective and a professor at William Paterson College in New Jersey. He worked as a session musician and played with Kenny Burrell. He formed a trio that featured Dave Friedman and Anthony Cox.
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Joe Deniz was born José William Deniz on September 10, 1913 in Butetown, Cardiff, Wales to a Black American mother and a Cape Verdean father. He learned the ukulele first, before upgrading to the fuller fretboard and along with his two brothers they all made their mark on the UK jazz dance scene. He started playing on the docks in Butetown, now known as Tiger Bay, where he played impromptu calypsos for the sailors for small change. As his skill increased so he would join other vagrant musicians traveling through the ethnic centers of Cardiff, playing engagements at houses in exchange for drinks. Eventually a nucleus of black musicians came together with Victor Parker, George Glossop and Don Johnson, finding work in Soho clubs.
After a brief sojourn to his home town, Deniz returned as drummer at the Nest, an after hours London club visited by Afro-Caribbean musicians and where he met Fats Waller and his idol, Django Reinhardt. He went on to join Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson’s Black Orchestra as his guitarist, remaining until 1941 when Johnson was killed in a Café De Paris bombing. He was injured at the time and had lifelong discomfort in his leg from shrapnel. He found session work with many top-flight band leaders, as well as violinist Stéphane Grappelli. His personal fame also rose via solos with Harry Parry’s Radio Rhythm Club Sextet.
Turning away from jazz, he joined his brothers in the Latin-styled Hermanos Deniz, before joining the West End run of Ipi Tombi, a South African musical which featured his duets with his brother Frank. He retired from music in 1980, contenting himself with his memories, passion for DIY and running a successful business. Guitarist and drummer Joe Deniz, never recorded as a leader but as a member of the Hermanos Deniz group, passed away April 24, 1994.
Marcus Lamar Miller was born on September 9, 1970 in Chesapeake, Virginia and began his musical journey at the age of three playing drums in his mothers church. During his elementary school years, 3rd-5th grade, he studied classical harp with the principal harpist for the Norfolk Symphony. Between the years 1983-88 he recorded on three albums with several mass choirs of the United Holy Church of America Inc. His high school and college years were spent backing rock, reggae, funk, Appalachian folk and jazz bands.
He went onto attend Washington & Lee University studying four-years of African, European, and Latin American histories. Setting his sights west to continue studies in music, Marcus landed in Berkeley, California in 1993 and began working with numerous local bands in the San Francisco bay area.
Miller landed a CNN spotlight of up and coming jazz musicians before touring and performing 1995 and 1996 with Ben Harper throughout Europe, Japan, and North America. He then moved to Anaheim after the tour, began a stint with Disney, started studying African traditional drumming with percussionists Leon Mobley and Angel Figueroa, and was a founding member of Leon Mobley & Da Lion.
Marcus has since gone on to perform with such artists as Ashanti, Sheila E, Andre Cymone, Barbara McNair, the Watts Prophets, Bennie Maupin, Vinx, Jimmy Sommers,Tony Furtado, and Ozomatli. He has collaborated with such choreographer/dancers as Lula Washington, Cleo Parker Robinson, Winifred Harris, Bonnie Homesy, Toni Pierce, Marguerite Donlon, and wife Tamica Washington-Miller.
Educating children is one of his biggest passions and teaches regularly at the New Roads School and holds private lessons. He founded YDLA, a performance group called the Young Drummers of Los Angeles, and works with various organizations throughout California facilitating drum workshops for the youth. His Freedom Jazz Movement serves as his main vehicle of musical expression, fusing traditional African rhythms with a East Coast swing. Drummer, composer, bandleader and educator Marcus L. Miller continues to perform, record and educate.
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Charles Moffett was born on September 6, 1929 in Fort Worth, Texas, and attended I.M. Terrell High School with Ornette Coleman. Before switching to drums, he began his musical career as a trumpeter. At age 13, he played trumpet with Jimmy Witherspoon and later formed a band, the Jam Jivers, with fellow students Coleman and Prince Lasha. After switching to drums, Moffett briefly performed with Little Richard.
Upon discharge from the United States Navy, Charles pursued a short career in boxing before studying music at Huston-Tillotson College in Austin, Texas. In 1953 he began teaching music at a Rosenberg, Texas public school.
1961 saw him moving to New York City to work with Coleman but the saxophonist soon went into a brief retirement period. Moffett worked with Sonny Rollins, recorded with Archie Shepp on the album Four for Trane, and led a group that included Pharoah Sanders and Carla Bley.
Upon Coleman’s return to performing in 1964, he formed a trio with bassist David Izenzon and Moffett,who also performed on vibraphone. He began teaching music again at New York Public Schools as a way to make ends meet when Coleman made only sporadic performances. He then moved to Oakland, California, where he served as the city’s music director, and was later the principal of the alternative Odyssey public school in Berkeley in the mid-1970s.
The title of his first solo album as a leader was The Gift, a reference to his love of teaching music. His then 7-year-old son Codaryl played drums on that album. Moffett later returned to Brooklyn, New York and taught at PS 142 Stranahan Junior High School. He would go on to record two more albums as a leader and another 28 as a sideman working with Coleman, Shepp, Eric Dolphy, Harold McNair, Joe McPhee, Charles Tyler Ensemble, Bob Thiele Emergency, Frank Lowe, Ahmed Abdullah, Sonny Simmons, Keshavan Maslak and Kenny Millions.
Free jazz drummer Charles Moffett passed away on February 14, 1997 but left us his legacy in his music and his children, double bassist Charnett Moffett, drummer Codaryl “Cody” Moffett, vocalist Charisse Moffett, trumpeter Mondre Moffett, and saxophonist Charles Moffett, Jr.
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