Julie Kelly at Catalina's Bar and Grill

Julie Kelly at Catalina's Bar and Grill

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Little Heat from “Little” Jimmy Heath



© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

We have departed a bit from our usual practice of embedding a video further into a posting so that you would have a chance to hear Jimmy Heath and his music before reading about it.

The audio track is Jimmy’s tune The Quota and is taken from the Original Jazz Classic-Riverside CD by the same name [OJCCD-1871-2;RLP 9392].

The cut features Jimmy unique tenor saxophone sound as well as his very distinctive approach to Jazz composition and arranging.

Julius Watkins provides the French Horn solo [not something you hear everyday on a Jazz record].  He is followed by finger-poppin’ solos from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard [2:19 minutes] and pianist Cedar Walton [3:00],who is joined in the rhythm section by Jimmy’s older brother Percy Heath on bass and his younger brother Albert [nicked-named “Tootie”] on drums.

The late guitarist and saloon-keeper Eddie Condon is quoted as having said that the sound coming from the legendary Bix Beiderbecke’s trumpet “Was like a woman saying, “Yes.’”  I wonder what the same woman would have said if she ever heard Freddie Hubbard play trumpet?

Over a five year period from 1959-1963, Jimmy Heath recorded six albums for Riverside, all of which have been issued on CD as Original Jazz Classics.  Since Jimmy wasn’t very known by the general public during this period, thanks are once again due to Orrin Keepnews, co-owner of Riverside, who early on in his career, appreciated Heath’s talent and found the resources to make these albums possible.

Orrin’s view of Jimmy’s work is nicely summed up this excerpt from his insert notes to The Thumper [OJCCD-1828, RLP-1160]:

“It should be immediately evident from this LP that Jimmy possesses a large handful of attributes of major jazz value: he has a full, deep, compelling sound and a fertile imagination; his playing really swings; and he is a jazz composer of considerable vigor and freshness. And, although his will undoubtedly be a new name to many, Heath is also a thoroughly experienced musician, who has been associated with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and many other headliners.”

And here are some additional reflections by Orin from the liner notes to Jimmy’s
The Jimmy Heath Orchestra: Really Big! [OJCCD-1799, RLP-1188]on which the Heath brothers are joined by the Adderley brothers, Cannonball and Nat:

“The modern jazz artist who both 'wails' and writes is often an unavoidably split personality: enjoying his playing in the small-group context that is the normal setting for wailing these days, but often longing for the more satisfying complexity of arranged musical colorings and backgrounds that are possible only with more large-scaled bands. On the other hand, he is apt to be aware that big-band efforts can all too easily have a stiffness and formality too far removed from the easy-flowing looseness and free-blowing spirit of the best of small-group jazz.

Facing this basic dilemma, JIMMY HEATH, a man to be reckoned with both as improviser and as writer, has evolved the unique solution that is at the heart of this album. It is a combination that Jimmy describes as "a big band sound with a small-band feeling"—a richly textured musical pattern that manages to retain all the earthy ferment of a swinging quintet or sextet date.

It should be obvious that the fresh, clear-cut style of Heath's arrangements has much to do with the success of this idea. It should also be apparent that Jimmy's earthy, vigorous and emotionally compelling solo sound is ideally suited to the handling of the material he has written.”

Dan Morgenstern, the Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, observed in his notes to On The Trail [OJCCD-1854, RLP-9486]

“Small of frame but large of sound and soul, Jimmy Heath is a musician whose contributions to jazz have been con­sistently impressive since the halcyon days of Bebop, when he was known as "Little Bird" and specialized in the alto sax.
Jimmy made the switch to tenor many years ago, and he has long been his own man, both as an instrumentalist and as an arranger. On this album, his primary role is that of a soloist of uncommon warmth and fluency, but his arranger's sense of balance and proportion also makes itself felt.

Here, there is none of the self-indulgent loquaciousness that mars so many "blowing dates"; each track is made up of meaningful musical statements that hold and sustain the listener's interest.

That interest is heightened, too, by Heath's well-chosen and well-paced material, which adds up to an attractive program, offering a variety of moods and tempos. And no matter what the groove - a pretty ballad or an up-tempo swinger — the music flows and tells a story.”

The following listing and capsulated reviews can be located on page 694 of  The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Edition:

© -Richard Cook & Brian Morton/Penguin Books, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

**** The Thumper Original Jazz Classics OJC 1828
Heath; Nat Adderley (cl); Curtis Fuller (tb); Wynton Kelly (p); Paul Chambers (b); Albert 'Tootle' Heath (d). 9/59.

***(*) Really Big!
Original Jazz Classics OJC 1799 Heath; Clark Terry, Nat Adderley (t); Tom Mclntosh, Dick Berg (tb); Cannonball Adderley, Pat Patrick (sax); Tommy Flanagan, Cedar Walton (p); Percy Heath (b); Albert 'Tootie' Heath (d). 1960.

The middle of the three Heath brothers is perhaps and quite undeservedly now the least known. Jimmy Heath's reputation as a player has been partly overshadowed by his gifts as a composer ('C.T.A.',  'Gemini',  'Gingerbread   Boy')   and  arranger.   The Thumper was his debut recording. Unlike most of his peers, Heath had not hurried into the studio. He was already in his thir­ties and writing with great maturity; the session kicks off with 'For Minors Only', the first of his tunes to achieve near-classic standing. He also includes 'Nice People'. The Riverside compila­tion which bears that name was until recently the ideal introduc­tion to the man who was once known as 'Little Bird' but who later largely abandoned alto saxophone and its associated Parkerisms in favor of a bold, confident tenor style that is immediately dis­tinctive. Now that The Thumper is around again, the compilation album is a little less appealing.


Also well worth looking out for is the big-band set from 1960. Built around the three Heath and the two Adderley brothers, it's a unit with a great deal of personality and presence. Sun Ra's favorite baritonist, Pat Patrick, is in the line-up and contributes fulsomely to the ensembles. Bobby Timmons's 'Dat Dere', 'On Green Dolphin Street' and 'Picture Of Heath' are the outstanding tracks, and Orrin Keepnews's original sound is faithfully pre­served in Phil De Lancie's conservative remastering.
Heath's arrangements often favor deep brass pedestals for the higher horns, which explains his emphasis on trombone and French horn parts. The earliest of these sessions, though, is a rel­atively stripped-down blowing session ('Nice People' and 'Who Needs It') for Nat Adderley, Curtis Fuller and a rhythm section anchored on youngest brother, Albert, who reappears with Percy Heath, the eldest of the three, on the ambitious 1960 'Picture Of Heath'. Like Connie Kay, who was to join Percy in the Modern Jazz Quartet, Albert is an unassuming player, combining Kay's subtlety with the drive of Kenny Clarke (original drummer for the MJQ). More than once in these sessions it's Albert who fuels his brother's better solos.

***(*) The Quota
Original Jazz Classics OJCCD 1871 Heath; Freddie Hubbard (t); Julius Watkins (frhn); Cedar Walton (p); Percy Heath (b); Albert 'Tootie' Heath (d). 4/61. *** On The Trail
Original Jazz Classics OJCCD 1854 Heath; Wynton Kelly (p); Kenny Burrell (g); Paul Chambers (b); Albert 'Tootie' Heath (d). 64.
The Quota perfectly underlines Jimmy's ability to make three contrasting horns sound like a big band, or very nearly. This is a cleverly arranged session, and an agreeably fraternal one, with Percy and Tootie on hand as well. Hubbard was a killer at 23, solo­ing with fire and conviction, but it is Jimmy's own work, on his own title-track and on 'When Sonny Gets Blue', that stands out, arguably some of his best tenor-playing on record.


***On The Trail is less arresting; more of a straight blowing ses­sion, it doesn't play to Jimmy's real strengths and the production seems oddly underpowered, as if everything has been taken down a notch to accommodate Burrell's soft and understated guitar lines. 'All The Things You Are' has some moments of spectacular beauty, as when Jimmy floats across Wynton Kelly's line with a soft restatement of the melody and a tiny fragment of the 'Bird Of Paradise' contra fact patented by Charlie Parker. Good, straightforward jazz, but not a great Jimmy Heath album.

***(*) Triple Threat
Original Jazz Classics OJCCD 1909-2 Heath; Freddie Hubbard (t); Julius Watkins (frhn); Cedar Walton (p); Percy Heath (b); Albert 'Tootie' Heath (d). 1/62.
A dry run for the Heath Brothers project and another object les­son in how to give a relatively small unit an expansive sound. Jimmy takes a couple of numbers with just rhythm and even there manages to suggest a massive structure behind his elegantly linear melody lines. Watkins has an enhanced role and demon­strates once again what an exciting player he can be on an instrument usually consigned to a supportive role.
Jimmy's blues waltz, 'Gemini', is probably better known in the version recorded by Cannonball Adderley, but the little man's own solo statement confirms ownership rights. Hubbard is in quiet form, but already gives notice of what he was capable of.

***(*) Swamp Seed
Original Jazz Classics OJCCD 1904-2 Heath; Donald Byrd (t); Jimmy Buffington, Julius Watkins (frhn); Don Butterfield (tba); Herbie Hancock, Harold Mabern (p); Percy Heath (b); Albert 'Tootie' Heath, Connie Kay (d). 63.
Jimmy's genius as an arranger is evident here, where he manages to make three brass sound like a whole orchestra. With no sup­plemental reeds to support his own muscular lines, Jimmy is the most prominent voice. On 'Six Steps', 'Nutty' and 'D Waltz', he creates solo statements of genuine originality, relying on the sub­tle voicings given to Butterfield, Buffington and Watkins to sup­port his more adventurous harmonic shifts. As 'D Waltz' demonstrates, Jimmy learned a lot from listening to Charlie Parker, but also to the older bandleaders like Lunceford and
Eckstine, who understood how to give relatively simple ideas maxi­mum mileage.”

Lastly, here’s a retrospective of the highlights of Jimmy’s career including the formation of The Heath Brothers band in the 1970’s. It would intermittently continue to function as a working and recording band until the death of bassist Percy Heath in 2005.

It can be found in Kenny Mathieson’s Cookin’:Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65 [Edinburgh: Canongate, 2002, pp. 250-254].

© -Kenny Mathieson/Canongate, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Jimmy Heath started out playing alto saxophone in the style of Charlie Parker, a model he adopted so conscientiously that he was nicknamed 'Little Bird' by his fellow musicians. Partly in an attempt to get away from that rather too close identification, and partly because it offered better job prospects, he turned to tenor saxophone, and found that he genuinely preferred the bigger horn. His name crops up at various points throughout this book, as do those of his two brothers, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert Tootie' Heath. Music is very often a family affair, but not too many families can boast three top class jazz professionals in their ranks (others which do come to mind are the Jones brothers of Detroit, and the more contemporary musical dynasty fathered in New Orleans by pianist Ellis Marsalis, led by Wynton and Branford).

Jimmy Heath was born on 25 October, 1926, in Philadelphia, and is the middle brother of the three (Percy, the eldest, was born on 30 April 1932, in Wilmington, North Carolina, while Albert first saw the light of day on 31 May, 1935, also in Philadelphia). The saxophonist led his own big band in Philly in late 1946, modeled on the bebop big bands of Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie. The personnel included several players who went on to bigger things, including Benny Golson, trombonist Willie Dennis, trumpeter Johnny Coles, and, most famously, John Coltrane. Heath and Coltrane formed a close relationship at this time, often practicing together (Lewis Porter describes some of their routines in John Coltrane: His Life and Music) as well as socializing.

Jimmy and Percy both played with trumpeter Howard McGhee in 1947-48, their first important musical association outside of Phila­delphia. The saxophonist then joined the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra in 1949-50, in which he took the opportunity to further develop his writing and arranging skills. His talent as both player and writer, and his natural affinity for the blues and funk, should have made him a significant contributor to the formative period of hard bop. Instead, his progress throughout the 1950s was impeded by his addiction, acquired in Philadelphia in the summer of 1949, and he spent four years in prison following a conviction in mid-decade, re-emerging on a much-changed jazz scene after being paroled in 1959.

His parole restrictions cost him the chance to tour with Miles Davis, but he set about resurrecting his own career. Heath had cut discs as a sideman, including sides with Gillespie, Miles, J. J. Johnson and Kenny Dorham, but had not recorded an album under his own name until The Thumper, his debut for Riverside on 27 November, 1959. He assembled a sextet for the date, with Nat Adderley on cornet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Albert Heath on drums. The date provided a showcase not only for his strong, inventive tenor playing, which seemed entirely undiminished by his time away, but also for the high quality of his writing and arranging. The session featured five of his own compositions, including the title track and the justly celebrated 'For Minors Only', and also included a pair of emotive but unsentimental ballad readings.


It began a sequence of fine albums for Riverside. Really Big took the obvious next step and provided Heath with a larger ensemble on which to exercise his talents as an arranger. Although not a full big band, the ten-piece group on the album - which included Cannonball Adderley on alto and Pat Patrick on baritone saxophone — provided Heath with a fine platform, underpinned by the baritone and the darker brass shadings of Tom Mclntosh's trombone and Dick Berg's French horn (both Percy and Albert were in the rhythm section, with either Tommy Flanagan or Cedar Walton). The session, recorded in June, 1960, is a strong outing, with more powerful original compositions by the saxophonist, including the impressive 'Picture of Heath', alongside a selection of standards and established jazz tunes.

It was the biggest group he used in his Riverside tenure, but in the session for Swamp Seed on 11 March, 1963, he had an eight-piece band at his disposal, this time with his solitary tenor set against a brass section of Donald Byrd on trumpet, both Jim Buffington and Julius Watkins on French horns, and Don Butterfield on tuba, and another varying rhythm section, with either Harold Mabern or Herbie Hancock on piano, Percy Heath on bass, and either Albert Heath or Percy's MJQ band mate Connie Kay on drums. Like Horace Silver, Heath had the knack of making a small group sound like a fuller band, and his immaculately contrived brass voicings here give the feel of a much bigger ensemble than he actually had, and provide a springboard for his richly conceived, exploratory solos on cuts like 'D Waltz' and Thelonious Monk's 'Nutty'.

The dates which produced The Quota, recorded on 14 April, 1961, and Triple Threat, from 4 January, 1962, both featured a sextet, with Heath's tenor accompanied by hotshot young trumpet star Freddie Hubbard and the inevitable French horn, expertly played as ever by Julius Watkins, surely the best-known exponent of the horn in jazz (and one of the few to record as a leader on the instrument, for Blue Note in 1954), and a rhythm section of Cedar Walton and the other two Heath brothers. As with The Thumper, Heath achieves a beautifully balanced blend of subtle ensemble arrangements and a hard swinging, spontaneous blowing feel. Triple Threat contains his own version of 'Gemini', a jazz waltz made famous by Cannonball Adderley, which stands alongside 'For Minors Only', 'C. T. A.' and 'Gingerbread Boy' as his best known tunes.

The smallest group session in his Riverside roster was On The Trail, a quintet date from Spring, 1964, which featured Heath as the only horn in a band with Kenny Burrell on guitar, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Albert Heath on drums. The date has a more open blowing feel than his other Riverside sessions, but their combined weight confirmed his stature as a major - if slightly belated - contributor to hard bop in this comeback period. The session included 'Gingerbread Boy' and a fine reading of 'All The Things You Are*, while the title track was a jazz arrangement of a section from Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, which adopted a 'semi-modal' approach.

Ashley Khan reports in Kind of Blue that the arrangement was originally prepared by Donald Byrd, but a disagreement with Blue Note saw it dropped - Heath picked up on it, and Khan quotes the saxophonist: 'We wanted to experiment with modal pieces, not to the same degree as Miles, completely, like "So What." Not everyone else wanted to take those chances with something new. We weren't Miles Davis, so we said "OK, we'll do a little of that." A lot of the modal pieces we wrote were modal for a while and then they ended on a sequence of chords to get back to a certain point to be more communicative to an audience.'

Perhaps surprisingly in the light of his prominence with the MJQ, Percy Heath showed no inclination to follow his example and make records as a leader, although Albert did get around to leading a session of his own, Kawaida, for Trip Records in 1969, with a band which included Don Cherry, and followed it with Kwanza for Muse in 1973. Jimmy continued to make records throughout the ensuing decades, including sessions for Muse, Verve, Steeple Chase, and a reunion with Orrin Keepnews for his Landmark label, and also became a greatly respected educator.



The three brothers finally officially got together as The Heath Brothers in 1975, recording a number of albums for Strata East, Columbia and Antilles in the late 1970s and early 1980s (sometimes with Jimmy's son, Mtume, on percussion, although Albert was replaced by drummer Akira Tana on some of these records). They flirted a little with a more commercial approach at times, but for the
most part, remained firmly in classic hard bop territory, as refracted  through the prism of Jimmy's individual arrangements. …

Having gone their own way again in the mid-1980s, The Heath Brothers reconvened without any great fanfare in 1997, both as an occasional touring unit and in the studio, where they recorded a couple of fine albums for Concord Jazz, As We Were Saying (1997) and Jazz Family (1998), with Jimmy's stamp firmly on the music. As with his own sessions of the late 1980s and 1990s, the music has plenty to say, and does so with consummate skill, real authority and inventiveness, and a refreshing lack of bluster.”

Jimmy Heath is still a vibrant part of today’s Jazz scene, and in addition to the triple threat of performing as a saxophonist, composing and arranging he has added a fourth quality - Jazz educator.

Jimmy has a website which you can by going here.