03/27/09 By Larry Reni Thomas
Jimmy Heath to appear in the 19th NCCU Jazz Festival
Musical partnership bound to produce an exciting, spirited, memorable jazz festival peformance
Jazz master, Jimmy Heath, 82 years old, has been performing for over six decades with jazz giants like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. He and Ira Wiggins, a 53 years old, music professor at NorthCarolina Central University (NCCU), have a great deal in common. They both play the tenor, soprano saxophones and flute exceptionally well. They both love jazz. They both graduated from high school in North Carolina (Jimmy in Wilmington in 1943 and Ira in Kinston in 1973). They have a long standing friendship, high regard and respect each other; and they thoroughly enjoy each others company. Jimmy Heath, and Ira Wiggins, will participate in the 19th Annual North Carolina Central University Jazz Festival scheduled for April 17 and 18 at B.N. Duke Auditorium in Durham, North Carolina. “Jimmy is just a great person and an excellent role model, especially for young people who want to be professional jazz musicians,” said Ira Wiggins, in a telephone interview from his home in Durham. Wiggins, Director of the Jazz Studies Program at North Carolina Central University, first met Heath in 1981 in Richmond, Virginia, when Wiggins was a graduate student in Jazz Performance at Virginia Commonwealth University. Heath came there to perform with the Heath Brothers group and teach a master class with his older brother Percy, the legendary bassist, and native of Wilmington, North Carolina. “He was very approachable and not at all like the superstar I thought he would be,” said Wiggins. “After the class, we went to lunch and when he left and went back to New York, we corresponded on a regular basis. He sent me albums, a book of his compositions and he became like a long distance teacher. Whenever he would appear near Richmond, or the D.C. area, I would always show up. Once, when I went to one of his concerts in Winston Salem, he hunched one of the members of his band and said—‘I told you he (Ira) would be here.’” Later, in 1986, when Wiggins became Director of the Jazz Studies Program at NCCU, Jimmy was the oneof the first musicians he called to headline his annual jazz festival. Since then, Ira has brought Heath to Durham four times. Heath also performed with the NCCU Jazz Ensemble at the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) conference in New York City in January 2004. “When I first heard Ira play the saxophone as a student in Richmond, I was impressed with that big bold sound he got out of the horn,” said Heath, in a telephone interview from his Queens, New York residence. “He had that Gene Ammons sound; that full beautiful tone. He just stood out from the rest of the group. We developed a very good relationship. We stayed in contact through the years. I met his wonderful wife and I’m impressed with his work ethic, especially after he went on and got his doctorate. He has done a beautiful job with his students and continues to help the music keep that soulful feeling. I always love to play with the NCCU band because they’ve got that “Southern” thing. I love it because it’s real! I am looking forward to coming down there for the concert and master class. I have sent Ira some charts and we will be playing music from my latest album called ‘Turn Up The Heath.’” Both Heath and Wiggins consider this festival a special occasion because all the tunes will be Jimmy Heath originals. Previous engagements included a mixture of standards and one or two of Heath’s compositions. Jimmy will also conduct a master class and lecture at 12 noon, Friday, April 17 on campus in B.N. Duke Auditorium. The lecture will be free and open to the public.
On Friday night April 17th at 8:00 p.m. the festival opens with performances by Durham vocal sensation Lois Deloatch along with the NCCU Jazz Ensemble, and The NCCU Faculty Group.
The NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble and Jimmy Heath and The NCCU Jazz Ensemble will perform Saturday, April 18, at 8:00 p.m.
General admission is $15.00. Student admission is $10.00. The “Weekend Package” is $25.00 for Friday and Saturday performances. The “Weekend Package”includes an automatic membership to the newly formed “Friends of the Jazz Studies Program”—organized to support the study of jazz music.
For more information contact: Ira Wiggins at (919) 530 7214 or the NCCU Department of Music at (919)530 6319.