Pinoy Rocks

‘We’ve lost a giant’: Legendary PH bassist dies

Roger Herrera. (Contributed photo by Dudee Alfonso)

Roger Herrera, bass player par excellence, died Wednesday, Nov. 14, leaving behind a full life spent pushing the boundaries of modern Philippine music, principally Pinoy jazz.  He was 80.

His cremated remains lay in state at the Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park, Makati City until Thursday, Nov. 15, with interment scheduled the day after.

Universally acclaimed by his contemporaries here and abroad as the greatest Filipino bassist ever, Roger Herrera left a distinguished and distinctive mark on Filipino music. He was a fixture mostly in jazz performances playing alongside such luminaries as Romy Posadas, Rudy Lozano, Edgar Avenir and Sandra Lim Viray.

But Mang Roger, as he is affectionately called, extended his expertise in other musical genres as well, from classical to contemporary pop. He worked as sideman and musical director to a rainbow of OPM stars including Regine Velasquez, Jose Mari Chan and stage luminary Lea Salonga.

He was a pro, playing exactly what was required of him. But, what he played was elegant and affecting. Said Pinoy jazz and rock iconoclast Johnny Alegre, "He had a clarity of tone that was exceptional and beautiful. By tone I mean the quality of the sound he produced."

On same level as Charles Mingus

In his book "Pinoy Jazz Traditions,"  musician and jazz historian Richie Quirino wrote that jazz singer Anita O'Day once said Roger Herrera was one of the finest bassist  she'd come across.

He appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival as member of the Philippine Jazz All Stars and was voted a top bassist along with Ray Brown, Charles Mingus and Ron Carter.

In June this year, he performed at the pre-main event to a benefit show at the Newport Performing Arts Theater of Resorts World Manila in Pasay City. It was favorably reviewed to be another stellar outing in which Roger was joined by keyboardist Elhmir Saison, drummer Mar Dizon, saxophonist Tots Tolentino and vocalists Verni Varga and Richard Merck.

Bridged jazz and non-jazz

"Mang Roger bridged the gap between young and old...jazz and non-jazz," said jazz vocalist Sandra Viray, who also organizes the annual Philippine International Jazz Festival.

"His love for music showed in his excellence in whatever genre he played and in his life-long dedication to Philippine music. I am honored to have crossed paths with one of Asia's best bass players," she added.

Recalled Alegre, "In the mid to late 1980s, I worked as a line producer for Vicor/Blackgold Records. Through many projects, I hired not only the best session players, but cherry-picked those whose aesthetic matched mine. Roger Herrera was my first call for the bass chair among an elite crew of professionals."

He credited Herrera for shaping to a large extent the sound of classic OPM.

"In later years I ventured out to seek my own direction, but I'm proud of the commercial work I did with those amazing musicians, Roger being foremost," Alegre said.

Graciousness and charm

Blues harmonica player Tom Colvin said that when he first came to the Philippines in 1986, Herrera was already the local music scene's go-to guy.

"International jazz stars looking for back up support when performing in Manila always asked for Roger," Colvin said.

"Part of his genius was his quiet charm, his graciousness towards all he met.  We've lost a giant."

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