02/23/12 By Larry Reni Thomas
Heath Brothers Homecoming Celebration in Wilmington, North Carolina
Jazz legends Jimmy and Albert "Tootie" Heath return to their father's birthplace.
“I’m very excited about my Wilmington concert,” said the legendary saxophonist/composer Jimmy Heath, in a recent telephone interview from his Corona, Queens, New York home. “I have great memories of living there as a teenager, in the early 1940s, going to high school at Williston Industrial High School where I learned a trade--carpentry. I’ll never forget those times. Like being in the high school band and chasing the girls. They used to call me ‘Jeep’ because I was so small and they said I ran around like a little jeep. You know, the jeep was the smallest car at that time. I had a lot of fun.”
Heath, born in Philadelphia in 1926, spent some time in Wilmington, with his father’s parents. His father, Percy Heath, Sr. was born in Wilmington, in 1898. Jimmy’s grandparents, The Fishers, owned a thriving grocery store in the black community. Jimmy Heath has sometimes called Wilmington, his “second home” because it was where he and his brother, the great bassist Percy Heath, Jr., who performed with the classic Modern Jazz Quartet for several years, spent summers and attended high school. Jimmy, who played saxophone in the school band, graduated from Williston in 1943. His brother, Percy, who would later become a Tuskegee Airman, finished Williston in 1940.
“In 1942, we started a jazz band (Melody Barons) in Wilmington,” Jimmy wrote in a his autobiography “I Walked With Giants” (Temple University Press), “ and played stock arrangements. Mr Wall, one of our music teachers, wrote certain things out for us, as did Mr. Page, another teacher who had played with Count Basie for a while. Andy McGhee, who was a couple of years younger than I was, also played in the band. Andy would later play with Woody Herman and other bands and would become a teacher at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Walter Best was the finest trumpet player down there, but out of all the players from Wilmington at that time (including Lee Shelton), Andy McGhee and I were the ones who made music a career.”
Jimmy Heath has been performing since he was 16-years-old, right after graduating from Williston. In 1945, he went on a southern tour with The Calvin Todd big band, and one the stops was in Wilmington, North Carolina, at a dance hall called The Barn. Heath has been on the road ever since, and has had a very productive and enjoyable career as a performer, with his quartet, his big band, The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star band, and the beloved Heath Brothers, which included his late brother, Wilmington native, Percy, Jr., and youngest brother drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath. Jimmy is also a retired Queens College music professor, a recording artist, a composer and has received three doctorate degrees, including the first given by Julliard to a jazz artist.
Heath, along with his brother Albert “Tootie” are scheduled to appear in concert in Wilmington, North Carolina, at Thalian Hall, March 10, 2012, at 7:30 pm. “Heath Brothers Homecoming Celebration” is co-sponsored by The Cape Fear Jazz Appreciation Society and The Upperman African American Cultural Center. Opening act is UNCW professor drummer Joe Chambers All-stars featuring Benny Hill, Doug Irving and Brad Merritt. The homecoming celebration will also include a film screening, a book signing, a master class , and a pre-concert reception.
“I heard from Joe Chambers that things are shaping up nicely down there,” Jimmy Heath said, during a recent interview. “Of course, I’m excited. Who wouldn’t be? I may get to see some of old classmates. Good times!”
For information and tickets for The Heath Brothers Homecoming Celebration, March 10, 2012, call Thalian Hall Box Office (910) 632-2285 or online at www.thalianhall.com,
Larry Reni Thomas
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