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Jimmy Heath

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Information about Jimmy Heath

Profile image of Jimmy Heath

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Musician
Jazz Composer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Salmon
Favorite Time of Year:
Birthday
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Bahamas
Favorite Quote:
Life Is Music And Music Is Life.

Birthplace

Born:
10/25/1926
Birth Location:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Musician
Jazz Composer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Salmon
Favorite Time of Year:
Birthday
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Bahamas
Favorite Quote:
Life Is Music And Music Is Life.

Birthplace

Born:
10/25/1926
Birth Location:
Philadelphia
See how Jimmy Heath is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

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

As a teenager, Heath took music lessons and played the alto saxophone in the high school marching band. He also played in a jazz band called the Melody Barons and toured with the Calvin Todd Band in 1945, before joining a dance band in Omaha, Nebraska led by Nat Towles. Heath later formed his own big band, including John Coltrane, Specs Wright and Nelson Boyd. He also recorded with trumpeter Howard McGhee, who called him “Little Bird” because of his affinity to Charlie Parker. In 1948, McGhee took Heath and his older brother Percy to Paris, France for the First International Jazz Festival headlined by Coleman Hawkins and including Erroll Garner.

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. In 1952, Heath switched to Tenor sax and played with the Symphony Sid All Stars, featuring Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Kenny Clarke and his brother Percy. In 1953, Heath recorded his composition C.T.A with Miles Davis and another with J.J. Johnson which included Clifford Brown.

In 1959, Heath rejoined Miles Davis and made his debut album for Riverside Records called The Thumper followed by Really Big in 1960, The Quota in 1962, and Triple Threat in 1963. Heath recorded eight more albums as a leader. In 1975, he formed the Heath Brothers, with his two brothers, Percy and Albert “Tootie” Heath and Stanley Cowell, and recorded albums Live At The Public Theater on CBS for which they received a Grammy nomination, As We Were Saying and Endurance released in 2010.

In 1987, Heath became a professor of music at the Aaron Copland School Of Music at Queens College. There, he premiered his first symphonic work, Three Ears with Maurice Peress. In 2010, Heath’s autobiography was published by Temple University Press, I Walked With Giants, and it was voted “Best Book of The Year” by the Jazz Journalist Association. Heath recorded three big band records, Little Man Big Band produced by Bill Cosby, Turn Up The Heath and Togetherness live at the Blue Note. Vocalist Roberta Gambarini recorded twelve Heath songs for the album, Connecting Spirits.

Heath received 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 relationship 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.

See how Jimmy Heath is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Jimmy Heath's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Jimmy Heath lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Jimmy Heath describes his mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Jimmy Heath describes his father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Jimmy Heath talks about his paternal uncle Willie Johnson
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Jimmy Heath remembers his father, Percy Heath, Sr.
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Jimmy Heath talks about his step grandfather's business in Wilmington, North Carolina
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Jimmy Heath recalls his family's church involvement
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Jimmy Heath talks about his sister, Elizabeth Heath Reid
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Jimmy Heath describes his brother, Percy Heath, Jr.
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Jimmy Heath recalls the musical career of his brother Albert "Tootie" Heath
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Jimmy Heath talks about other popular musical families
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Jimmy Heath describes his earliest childhood memory
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Jimmy Heath talks about his brother Percy Heath, Jr.'s musical education
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Jimmy Heath describes his family's involvement in music
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Jimmy Heath remembers living between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, North Carolina
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Jimmy Heath recalls his decision to play the saxophone
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Jimmy Heath remembers his early musical experiences
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Jimmy Heath recalls attending Williston High School in Wilmington, North Carolina
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Jimmy Heath describes the differences between swing and bebop music, pt. 1
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Jimmy Heath describes the differences between swing and bebop music, pt. 2
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Jimmy Heath remembers hearing Charlie Parker's and Dizzy Gillespie's music for the first time
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Jimmy Heath talks about playing with John Coltrane and Charlie Parker
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Jimmy Heath recalls organizing a benefit concert for Mary Etta Jordan
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Jimmy Heath talks about his son James Mtume
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Jimmy Heath remembers playing in Dizzy Gillespie's band
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Jimmy Heath recalls the jazz community in his early career
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Jimmy Heath describes Dizzy Gillespie's personality
  • Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Jimmy Heath remembers saxophonist John Coltrane
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Jimmy Heath talks about John Coltrane's music and the spirituality of jazz
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Jimmy Heath remembers composer Sun Ra
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Jimmy Heath talks about drummer Specs Wright
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Jimmy Heath talks about the reaction to bebop music in the South
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Jimmy Heath reflects upon the lack of institutional support for jazz in the United States, pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Jimmy Heath reflects upon the lack of institutional support for jazz in the United States, pt. 2
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Jimmy Heath recalls the start of his heroin addiction
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Jimmy Heath remembers being convicted of selling heroin
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Jimmy Heath talks about the impacts of heroin on the jazz community, pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Jimmy Heath talks about the impacts of heroin on the jazz community, pt. 2
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Jimmy Heath talks about recovering from heroin addiction while incarcerated
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Jimmy Heath remembers recording with Columbia Records
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Jimmy Heath talks about his marriage to Mona Brown Heath
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Jimmy Heath recalls recording with Riverside Records
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Jimmy Heath remembers Miles Davis
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Jimmy Heath talks about playing modal jazz with Miles Davis
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Jimmy Heath describes his album 'Really Big!'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Jimmy Heath talks about the range of wind instruments used in jazz
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Jimmy Heath talks about moving to New York City in 1964