Remembering jazzman Roger Herrera

By Tony M. Maghirang

Posted at Nov 18 2012 05:52 PM | Updated as of Nov 19 2012 07:20 PM

Remembering jazzman Roger Herrera 1
Roger Herrera playing the bass in a concert. Photo by Sandra Viray
MANILA, Philippines -- Roger Herrera, one of Asia’s best bass players, succumbed to pneumonia and passed away at 11:45 a.m. on November 14. He was 80.

Mang Roger, as he was fondly referred to by musicians and associates, started to make a name in jazz circles during the 1950s. In 1962, the German jazz critic Joaquim Berendt writing for the preeminent jazz magazine Downbeat called him “the best bass guitarist in Asia.”

Berendt placed Herrera in the elite company of Ron Carter, Ray Brown and Charles Mingus.

Herrera's melodic bass playing eventually resounded in the music he contributed to his own Roger Herrera Band, the iconic Lito Molina’s Jazz Friends and in countless sessions with big name and emerging stars here and abroad. He played at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival with the equally gifted pianist Romy Posadas.

At the height of OPM’s resurgence, Herrera’s incomparable presence on bass resounded in both Pinoy jazz and pop music recordings as well as in live performances. His credits appeared in albums by Sharon Cuneta, Regine Velasquez, Richard Merck and Lea Salonga.

He is most closely associated though with countless jazz shows where he has shared stages with international performers like Buddy Rich and the Duke Ellington band and a virtual pantheon of who’s who in Philippine jazz that includes drummer Mar Dizon, saxophonist Tots Tolentino, guitarist Rudy Lozano and vocalists Vernie Varga and Sandra Viray.

What leaves the most lasting impression besides his passion for music is his self-effacing graciousness. Blues harmonica player Tom Colvin remembers: “When I first arrived in the Philippines in 1986, he was already the one person everyone pointed to as the pre-eminent jazzman in the country. He seemed to be at the heart of every top jazz group of the day.

“But he was always a kind-hearted fellow. That’s how he has earned universal respect among his community that he becomes an iconic figure.”

Herrera’s musical genius comes with strong ties with family and friends. He spent a part of his professional career abroad yet he chose to come home to roost. In the last few years, when others of his age would rather enjoy retirement and despite the prognosis of failing health, he still worked the magic of his bass playing before homegrown audiences.

Vocalist Sandra Viray said Herrera’s excellence drew from his enduring love for Philippine music.

She added, “He is a friend and a dedicated family man, and we sympathize with the family's loss of a great man and music legend.”

Working in the sidelines has been the calling card of bass players in every music genre. With his passing, Roger Herrera has instead grown into musical giant whose legacy will be long remembered.

He will surely rest in peace.