Week ending 29 February 2020: Remembering Jimmy Heath

Saxophonist Jimmy Heath performs during the Apollo Walk of Fame Induction Ceremony for Charlie Parker at The Apollo Theater on March 30, 2016.

In this week’s show we remembered saxophonist Jimmy Heath whose music we have long enjoyed and who deserves rather wider recognition. He was born in Philadelphia on October 25, 1926. It was a musical family – his father played alto sax, his mother sang in a church choir, his sister was a pianist, and his brothers were bass player Percy Heath and drummer Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath.  

One of Heath’s earliest big bands in Philadelphia included John Coltrane, Benny Golson and Ray Bryant – all stars later in their own right. While in prison serving a sentence for heroin possession, Heath composed most of the music for the celebrated Playboys recording from Chet Baker and Art Pepper. Clean from 1959, he began to successfully rebuild his career working with Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham and Gil Evans. 

In 1975, with brother Percy Heath’s Modern Jazz Quartet seemingly defunct, the three brothers got together to form – wait for it – the Heath Brothers which also included pianist Stanley Cowell. Marchin’ On, their first album together for the short lived Strata East label, is one of my favourites and includes the superb Smilin’ Billy Suite. The group went on to record several albums with this lineup – check out the soul/disco influenced Dreamin’ from 1980’s Expressions of Life.  Later albums featured Jimmy Heath’s son, percussionist Mtume who had already worked with Miles Davis and would later record the disco classic Juicy Fruit.

We selected the album The Gap Sealer, playing Angel Man, dedicated to Yusef Lateef and featuring Jimmy Heath playing alongside Kenny Barron on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Mtume on percussion. Our other cut Far Away Land was from 1973’s Love and Understanding and included Curtis Fuller on trombone, Stanley Cowell on piano, Billy Higgins on drums and Bob Cranshaw again on bass.  Jimmy Heath taught on American university jazz programmes for over twenty years and he received Grammy nominations for two albums – and for the liner notes to the 1995 John Coltrane box set The Heavyweight Champion. During his career, Jimmy Heath performed on more than 100 albums – a record that surely deserves to be celebrated.

There was more music from Poland on the show this week, including another tune from one of my favourite albums of the moment –  Piotr Damasiewisz & Power of the Horns Ensemble. There was also a return to another Polish album with an unlikely dedication. Soundcheck, led by sax player Maciek Kocinski, have a suite dedicated to Martin Luther of Protestant Reformation fame – apparently a record that has emerged from Kocinski’s PhD thesis. The music is certainly reflective in places but it wouldn’t be at home in Luther’s Wittenberg – this is definitely contemporary jazz.

We included another track from Indonesian wunderkind Joey Alexander’s excellent download-only outtakes collection In a Sentimental Mood. This album is well worth getting hold of: although much of the music has surfaced on special editions of Alexander’s first two albums, this collection holds together in its own right. You can find it here on the ever-reliable Bandcamp.

There is always a place for new jazz from the UK and this time it was from one of Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood signings, the collective Kokoroko.  Their Afrobeat-influenced EP was released in early 2019 and the band have built up a solid live following over the year. Ti-De is an unusually reflective track from an excellent introduction to the band and features the excellent guitar work of Oscar Jerome and horns from Sheila Maurice Grey and Cassie Kinoshi. The EP is – of course – available here from Bandcamp.

  1. Jimmy Heath- Alkebu-lan (Land of the Blacks) from The Gap Sealer
  2. Jimmy Heath – Angel Man from The Gap Sealer
  3. Jimmy Heath – Far Away Lands from Love and Understanding
  4. Soundcheck – Sola Gratia from Martin Luther: Suite for Jazz Quartet
  5. Joey Alexander – Footprints from In a Sentimental Mood
  6. Kokoroko – Ti-De from Kokoroko
  7. Piotr Damasiewicz & Power of the Horns Ensemble – Kleofas from Polska

Neil is listening to…

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