By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Tools, eh? He makes it sound like he tripped over his ability in a vacant lot. And at this particular moment, he has to put those tools to use as a teacher. At the door, a bunch of kids are yelling, "Billy Higgins! Billy Higgins!"
"They need a place to play, a place to work things out," he says. "Otherwise they don't know how it is to play for an audience." The kids are the first segment of each drum workshop. One by one they come up on the little stage, bang around on the drum kit for a few minutes, take a bow and get their applause. The first boy, Samson, is only 4, but like the others, he's got spirit. Another small boy doesn't want to leave the drums once he's up there. He gives the cymbals a climactic whack, gets up to leave, then turns around and smashes them again. Wheels to leave again, turns back and whacks again. Finally Higgins has to shepherd him to the stage front. "Take your bow," he says with a firm smile. One kid drummer, about 8 with long dreadlocks, stays to jam with the adults and his father, a conga player, till 11.
YOU CAN'T FEEL TOO BAD ABOUT THE BOY MISSing sleep on a school night: The World Stage, in existence for 11 years now following its inception under Higgins and poet Kamau Daáood, isn't exactly a pool hall. It's an establishment where, on any given day of the week, you might encounter a poetry workshop, or a singing workshop, or a seminar in music theory from someone like bop-piano eminence Barry Harris. "There's not too many places around the country where you have a whole block with nothing but culture," says Higgins of this much-publicized stretch of Leimert Park. "They should bus children in here so they can see all this, so they could be a part of it.
"Because the stuff that they feed kids now, they'll have a bunch of idiots in the next millennium as far as art and culture is concerned. I play at schools all the time, and I ask, 'Do you know who Art Tatum was?' 'Well, I guess not.' Some of them don't know who John Coltrane was, or Charlie Parker. It's our fault. Those who know never told them. They know who Elvis Presley was, and Tupac, or Scooby-Dooby Scoop Dogg -- whatever. Anybody can emulate them, because it's easy, it has nothing to do with individualism. There's so much beautiful music in the world, and the kids are getting robbed."
People who come Higgins' way, though, retain their shirts and leave bearing cultural gifts. The reason might have to do with some of his own early experiences. "Ornette was incredible," he says. "He had a way of making it work, whatever you had. With Ornette, it's just 'Let's play.' There are no wrongs and rights. You give your heart. It all depends on how wide-open you are."
Open, like a door.