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Home | MusicMakers | Jimmy Heath
Color: Blue
Food: Salmon
Quote: Life Is Music And Music Is Life.
Season: Birthday
Vacation Destination: Bahamas
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interview Description:

Biography |

Interview Date: 01/17/2017

Musician and jazz composer Jimmy Heath was born on October 25, 1926 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Percy Heath, Sr. and Arlethia Heath. He attended Walter George Smith School in South Philadelphia and graduated from Williston Industrial School in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1943.

As a teenager in the early 1940s, Heath took music lessons and played the alto saxophone in a Wilmington jazz band, the Melody Barons. In 1945, he toured with the Calvin Todd Orchestra before joining the Nat Towles Orchestra, a big band based in Omaha, Nebraska. Between 1946 and 1947, Heath formed his own big band that included alto saxophonist John Coltrane. Heath then recorded and toured with trumpeter Howard McGhee, performing with McGhee and his brother Percy at the First International Jazz Festival in Paris, France. In 1949, he recorded his first big band arrangement on Gil Fuller Orchestra’s Bebop Boys. Dizzy Gillespie then hired Heath to play in his band with Coltrane and Specs Wright, and nicknamed Heath “Little Bird” because of his affinity to Charlie Parker. Heath transitioned from alto to tenor saxophone and in 1953, he composed “C.T.A.,” one of his most famous pieces, and recorded with jazz trumpeter Kenny Dorham. Heath went on to join the Miles Davis Quintet and, in 1959, recorded his debut album, The Thumper, which was released by Riverside Records. He went on to record a succession of jazz albums and collaborated with Freddie Hubbard on a live recording, Jam Gems: Live at the Left Bank.

With his two brothers, Percy and Albert “Tootie” Heath, and pianist Stanley Cowell, Heath formed the Heath Brothers in Philadelphia in 1975. The Heath Brothers recorded a number of albums, including Live at the Public Theatre, for which they received a Grammy nomination. Heath continued to record and release albums extraneous to the Heath Brothers and, in 1987, became professor of music at Queens College’s Aaron Copland School of Music. There, Heath premiered his first symphonic work, “Three Ears,” with Maurice Peress conducting. Additional Heath Brothers recordings include As We Were Saying and Endurance. In 2010, Heath published his autobiography, I Walked With Giants voted “Best Book of the Year” by the Jazz Journalist Association. As leader of the Jimmy Heath Big Band, he’s recorded three albums Turn Up The Heath, Togetherness, and Connecting Spirits with Roberta Gambarini.

Heath received numerous accolades for his jazz and bebop contributions, including a Life Achievement Award from the Jazz Foundation of America and the 2003 American Jazz Master Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. He was nominated for three Grammy Awards and has received three honorary doctorate degrees. He was also the first jazz musician to receive an honorary doctorate in music from the Juilliard School in New York.

Heath has one son, James Mtume, from a previous marriage and two children with his wife, Mona Heath; their daughter, Roslyn Heath and their son, Jeffrey Heath.

Jimmy Heath was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 9, 2016 and January 17, 2017.

Speaker Bureau Notes: