Jan 21, 2020
The passing of Jimmy Heath this past weekend at the age of 93 means that we have not just lost a great sax player and composer, but that one of the few living links to the birth of modern jazz is gone. Nicknamed "Little Bird" because of his technical abilities that recalled those of Charlie Parker, Heath played in big bands in the late Forties and early Fifties, both his own (where he hired John Coltrane, Ray Bryant and Benny Golson, among others) and with Dizzy Gillespie. His career suffered a detour with arrests for heroin possession, and he served time through the second half of the fifties.
Ironically, it was during that time that his talents as a composer and arranger became stronger, and the word was soon out as to his abilities. In addition to writing jazz standards like "Gingerbread Boy" and "C.T.A.", both recorded during his tenure with Miles Davis, he became an important part of bands with Milt Jackson, Art Farmer and Kenny Dorham.
With his older brother Percy (of MJQ fame) and younger brother Tootie, he formed the Heath Brothers in 1975. For me, this was much of his finest recorded work, particularly the lengthy "Smilin' Billy Suite". I had the pleasure of hanging with the three legends before and after their performance at the Hartford Jazz Festival, and was enthralled with the stories they would tell.
Podcast 722 is my tribute to Jimmy Heath, and features musical selections:
"Gingerbread Boy" - with the Jazz Orchestra of The Concertgebouw
"I Should Care"
"Keep Love Alive" - with The Heath Brothers
"The Rio Dawn" - with The Heath Brothers
"Smilin' Billy Suite" - with The Heath Brothers
"C.T.A. (Take Two)" - with Miles Davis