May 11, 1906: The Trombone of J.C. Higginbotham
I don’t know of many jazz fans who associate the trombonist J.C. Higginbotham, born on May 11, 1906, with Boston.Higgy himself called NYC home, but Boston can lay some claim to him. He explained his relationship with Boston to DownBeat in 1959: “I went up there to play two weeks, and I stayed five years. It’s a good city, but it’s kind of drowsy. Everything is quiet. I had money and I wanted to leave many times, but I just didn’t do it. Finally, I played up at Dartmouth College, and said I was going to leave afterwards. I called Jack Crystal to find out about working in New York, and I came home.”
J.C. Higginbotham (the “J” is for Jack, or John, and the “C” remains a mystery) didn’t leave exact dates for his Boston residency, but his name is in newspaper advertisements between November 1950 and January 1955, and he could have arrived in Boston earlier.
He was no stranger to Boston prior to 1950. He was here as a member of the Fletcher Henderson and Chick Webb bands in the thirties, and quite often with Red Allen’s small group in the forties.
Higgy lived on Columbus Ave, at the Mother’s Lunch rooming house, and possibly lived above Sandy Berman’s club in Beverly for a year, but I can’t verify that. He worked for long stretches with Fat Man Robinson’s jump band, and with his own bands at Wally’s, the Hi-Hat, and the Brown Derby, a club in the Fenway. He also played in pickup bands behind Rex Stewart and other horn players traveling the circuit as singles.
Higginbotham is one of those characters who raises the question, “who is a Boston jazz musician?” He lived and worked here for almost five years, which is much longer than Hodges or Carney did. They were born here but hardly blew a note before they packed up and left. Who has the greater claim to being a “Boston jazz musician,” the one who resided in Boston and put local men to work in his group, or the Boston-born one who moved away before he was old enough to buy a drink, and never looked back?
I’m not finding good examples of Higginbotham’s 1950s playing online, but he has a good, gutty solo in “Crawl Red Crawl,” a restored late-forties soundie he made with Red Allen.