Goodbye Jimmy Heath

On January 19, 2020, we read of the death of saxophonist, flautist, composer and arranger Jimmy Heath. Jimmy was highly respected among jazz musicians:

“My pick from the world’s talent would be Diz as leader, John Lewis or Hank Jones on piano, Ray Brown bass, Milt Jackson vibes, Jimmy Heath tenor, and Sonny Stitt alto.”

Kenny Clarke on jimmyheath.com

Jimmy Heath was born in Philadelphia on October 25, 1926 and was the brother of bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert Heath. Jimmy’s ability as a player was first noticed in the late 1940’s when he had earned the nickname “Little Bird”: he was playing alto then. It was when he switched to the tenor sax that people really sat up and took notice:

.. he is most effective on tenor, and his tough post-bop style is a match for many better known players:

The Rough Guide to Jazz 3rd Edition, Carr Ian, Fairweather Digby, Priestley Brian, Rough Guides Ltd. 2004

Jimmy was also a very successful composer and arranger with the Rough Guide to Jazz suggesting that it was these skills that overshadowed his playing – perhaps going, in some way, to explain why Jimmy Heath is not mentioned in the same way as Miles, Coltrane, Dizzy etc. among younger jazz fans? Jimmy wrote more than 125 tunes with a number, such as For Minors Only, Picture of Heath and Gingerbread Boy, becoming jazz standards.

Fortunately we have many of Jimmy Heath’s recordings available to us with Fresh Sounds Records giving us four very good albums over two CDs with Jimmy as leader.

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