This October, the legendary NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath turns 90 years old, and his illustrious career has included performances on more than 100 albums and with some of the greatest jazz musicians including Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie.
This June 10th, the Corona, Queens jazz master will return to Flushing Town Hall for a special, one-of-a-kind concert, “Dizzy Revisited,” paying homage to John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie with the Queens Jazz Orchestra.
Dizzy Gillespie once said of the multiple Grammy Award-nominated Mr. Heath, “All I can say is, if you know Jimmy Heath, you know Bop.”
You can get a taste of Mr. Heath’s exquisite talent by watching a video here of his 2012 performance with the Queens Jazz Orchestra at Flushing Town Hall. The presentation is sponsored by Farrell Fritz. (Tickets are available here.)
Queens Jazz Orchestra members also include: Antonio Hart; Mark Gross; Bobby LaVell; Charles Davis; Gary Smulyan; John Mosca; Steve Davis; Jason Jackson; Douglas Purviance; Frank Greene; Michael Mossman; Greg Gisbert; Freddie Hendrix; Jeb Patton; David Wong; and, Evan Sherman.
Jimmy Heath was born on October 25, 1926 in Philadelphia, PA. The second of the illustrious Heath Brothers to receive an NEA Jazz Master Fellowship (bassist Percy received the award in 2002), Jimmy was the first Heath to choose music as a career path. Starting on alto saxophone (and acquiring the nickname “Little Bird” due to the influence Charlie “Yardbird” Parker had on his style), one of his first professional jobs came in 1945-46 in the Midwest territory band led by Nat Towles, out of Omaha, Nebraska.
Returning to Philadelphia, he briefly led his own big band with a saxophone section that included John Coltrane and Benny Golson—also products of the city’s jazz scene. Gigs followed with Howard McGhee in 1948 and with Dizzy Gillespie‘s big band from 1949-50.
In the early 1950s, Heath switched to tenor sax, playing with Miles Davis in 1953 and then again briefly in 1959, among other gigs. In the 1960s, he began his own recordings as a leader, and frequently teamed up with Milt Jackson and Art Farmer. By that time he had honed his talent as a composer and arranger, creating such widely performed compositions as “Gingerbread Boy” and “C.T.A.” By combining his versatile style of performing and his outstanding writing and arranging abilities, he has set a high standard of accomplishment in the jazz field. He has made more than 100 recordings and composed more than 100 original works.
As an educator, Heath has taught at Jazzmobile, Housatonic Community College, City College of New York, and Queens College, where he retired from full-time teaching in 1998. He holds honorary degrees from Sojourner-Douglass College and the Juilliard School, and has a chair endowed in his name at Queens College. He continues to conduct workshops and clinics throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Since the mid-1970s, Jimmy had been teaming up with brothers Percy and Albert “Tootie” as the Heath Brothers, a band which also at times included contributions from Jimmy’s son, the noted percussionist, composer, and rhythm-and-blues producer, Mtume. In addition, he has performed with other jazz greats, such as Slide Hampton and Wynton Marsalis, and indulged in his continuing interest in the dynamics of arranging for big band. In 2010, his memoir, I Walked with Giants, was published. He remains active as an educator, saxophonist, and composer.