As a member of the groundbreaking Ornette Coleman-led quartet that launched the free jazz renaissance, Billy Higgins remains one of the most important and controversial drummers in music history. An uncommonly versatile and intuitive player, his nimble rhythmic patterns achieved a perfect balance between function and form, inspiring the great trumpeter Lee Morgan to remark "[Higgins] never overplays, but you always know he's there." Born October 11, 1936, in Los Angeles, Higgins began his career playing R&B, supporting headliners including Bo Diddley, Amos Milburn, and Jimmy Witherspoon. In 1953 he joined high school friend and trumpeter Don Cherry in the Jazz Messiahs, a group also featuring saxophonist James Clay; three years later, he began his session career, in the months to follow appearing on recording dates led by saxophonist Lucky Thompson and bassist Red Mitchell. Around this time, Higgins and Cherry met Coleman through mutual friend Clay. A virtual unknown, the Texas-born saxophonist was supporting himself with menial jobs while working diligently to hone a musical lexicon liberated from the restraints of conventional harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic structures. Both Higgins and Cherry soon joined Coleman's rehearsal group, which spent years woodshedding before finally securing its first live gigs in 1958, opening for Paul Bley at L.A.'s Hilcrest Club. Audiences were either angered or simply baffled by Coleman's radical sensibility, which he later dubbed "harmolodics," and with the 1958 release of his debut LP, Something Else!!!! The Music of Ornette Coleman, the controversy spread throughout the jazz populace, dividing musicians, critics, and fans alike.