Jimmy Heath  

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"Jimmy Heath was arrested and convicted twice for the sale of heroin; he was an acknowledged addict. The first time, in the spring of 1954, he was sent to the Federal Medical Center, Lexington, Kentucky, where many musicians and celebrities (and other people) were given treatment. After release, In early 1955, still an addict, he was arrested again, and served most of a six-year prison sentence in Lewisburg. He went cold turkey, and was able to spend a lot of his time engaged in music. While in prison he actually composed most of the Chet Baker and Art Pepper album Playboys (1956)."-- Sholem Stein

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James Edward Heath (October 25, 1926 – January 19, 2020), nicknamed Little Bird, was an American jazz saxophonist, composer, arranger and big band leader. He was the brother of bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert Heath. Heath was the father of R&B songwriter/musician James Mtume.


Contents

Biography

Heath was born in Philadelphia on October 25, 1926. His father, an auto mechanic, played the clarinet, performing on the weekends. His mother sang in a church choir. The family frequently played recordings of big band jazz groups around the house. His sister was a pianist, while his brothers were bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert Heath (his youngest sibling).

Heath originally played alto saxophone, but, after the influence of Charlie Parker on his work for Howard McGhee and Dizzy Gillespie in the late 1940s, he earned the nickname "Little Bird" (Parker's nickname was "Bird") and he switched to tenor saxophone.

During World War II, Heath was rejected for the draft for being under the weight limit. From late 1945 through most of 1946 he performed with the Nat Towles band. In 1946 he formed his own band, which was a fixture on the Philadelphia jazz scene until 1949. John Coltrane was one of four saxophonists in this band, which played gigs with Charlie Parker and also at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Although Heath recalls that the band recorded a few demos on acetate, it never released any recordings, and its arrangements were lost at a Chicago train station. The band dissolved in 1949 so that Heath could join Dizzy Gillespie's band.

One of Heath's earliest big bands (1947-1948) in Philadelphia included John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Specs Wright, Cal Massey, Johnny Coles, Ray Bryant, and Nelson Boyd. Charlie Parker and Max Roach sat in on one occasion.

Heath was arrested and convicted twice for the sale of heroin; he was an acknowledged addict. The first time, in the spring of 1954, he was sent to the Federal Medical Center, Lexington, Kentucky, where many musicians and celebrities (and other people) were given treatment. After release, In early 1955, still an addict, he was arrested again, and served most of a six-year prison sentence in Lewisburg. He went cold turkey, and was able to spend a lot of his time engaged in music. While in prison he actually composed most of the Chet Baker and Art Pepper album Playboys (1956). He was released early, on May 21, 1959, and remained clean for the rest of his life; conditions of probation made it difficult, but he managed to start rebuilding his career.

He briefly joined Miles Davis's group in 1959, replacing Coltrane, and also worked with Kenny Dorham and Gil Evans. Heath recorded extensively as leader and sideman. During the 1960s, he frequently worked with Milt Jackson and Art Farmer.

In 1975, he and his brothers formed the Heath Brothers, also featuring pianist Stanley Cowell.

Jimmy Heath composed "For Minors Only", "Picture of Heath", "Bruh' Slim", and "CTA" and recorded them on his 1975 album Picture of Heath.

In the 1980s, Heath joined the faculty of the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, City University of New York. With the rank of Professor, he led the creation of the Jazz Program at Queens College and attracted prominent musicians such as Donald Byrd to the campus. He also served on the Board of the Louis Armstrong Archives on campus, and the restoration and management of the Louis and Lucille Armstrong Residence in Corona, Queens, near his own home. In addition to teaching at Queens College for over twenty years, he also taught at Jazzmobile.

Personal life

At a coming-home party the night after his release from Lewisburg Penitentiary, he met his eventual wife, Mona Brown, whom he married in 1960; they had two children, Roslyn and Jeffrey.

In 2010 his autobiography I Walked With Giants was published by the Temple University Press. Heath stood just 5 feet, 3 inches. He notably played in a jazz concert at the White House, when President Bill Clinton himself borrowed his saxophone for one number.

Heath died on January 19, 2020 in Loganville, Georgia, of natural causes.

Awards and legacy

He received a Grammy nomination for box-set liner notes of The Heavyweight Champion, John Coltrane, the Complete Atlantic Recordings (Rhino, 1995), and Grammy nominations for Little Man Big Band (Verve, 1994) and Live at the Public Theatre with The Heath Brothers (Columbia, 1980).

Heath was a recipient of the 2003 NEA Jazz Masters Award.

During his career, Heath performed on more than 100 albums, including seven with the Heath Brothers and 12 as a leader. He wrote more than 125 compositions, many of which have become jazz standards and have been recorded by other artists, including Art Farmer, Cannonball Adderley, Clark Terry, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, James Moody, Milt Jackson, Ahmad Jamal, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, J. J. Johnson, and Dexter Gordon. Heath also composed extended works – seven suites and two string quartets – and premiered his first symphonic work, Three Ears, in 1988 at Queens College, with Maurice Peress conducting.

Discography

Sources:

As leader

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With the Heath Brothers

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  • 1975: Marchin' On (Strata-East Records)
  • 1978: Passin' Thru (Columbia Records)
  • 1979: Live at the Public Theatre (Columbia Records])
  • 1979: In Motion (Columbia Records)
  • 1980: Expressions of Life (Columbia Records)
  • 1981: Brotherly Love (Antilles Records)
  • 1981: Brothers and Others (Antilles Records)
  • 1997: As We Were Saying (Concord Records)
  • 1998: Jazz Family (Concord Records)
  • 2009: Endurance (Jazz Legacy Productions)

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As sideman

Template:Div col With Nat Adderley

With Donald Byrd

With Benny Carter

With Stanley Cowell

With Continuum

With Miles Davis

With Kenny Dorham

With Charles Earland

With Art Farmer

With Curtis Fuller

With Red Garland

'With Bunky Green

With Johnny Hartman

With Albert Heath

With Elmo Hope

With Freddie Hubbard

With Milt Jackson

With J. J. Johnson

With Carmell Jones

With Sam Jones

With Herbie Mann

  • Latin Mann (Columbia, 1965)
  • Big Boss Mann (1970)

With Howard McGhee

With Blue Mitchell

With the Modern Jazz Quartet

With Don Patterson

With Pony Poindexter

With Julian Priester

With Don Sickler

  • The Music of Kenny Dorham (Reservoir, 1983)

With Don Sleet

  • All Members (Jazzland, 1961)

With Cal Tjader

With Charles Tolliver

With Gerald Wilson

With Nancy Wilson




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