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Jimmy Heath

Jimmy Heath

Louis Armstrong influenced many jazz players to follow in his footsteps-to Corona, Queens, that is. Clark Terry and Cannonball and Nat Adderley moved to Armstrong’s adopted hometown, and finding the place just as likeable as Pops did, they convinced Jimmy Heath to move to Corona too. In 1964, Terry got Heath an application to live in his apartment cooperative and, though Terry has since moved and the Adderley brothers have both passed away, Heath still lives in the co-op with his wife. He is the only jazz player left in the complex-or at least the only player with a reputation. When Heath is at home he upholds his reputation as a renowned saxophonist, composer and educator by working, tirelessly it seems, on making more music. “My day is comprised of either practicing the saxophone, playing the piano or being on the computer,” he explains from the crowded comfort of his music studio, a room stacked with synthesizers, saxophones and a Macintosh computer, Heath’s beloved composing tool. While many musicians Heath’s age (he turned 75 last October) continue to write charts out the old-fashioned way with pencil and eraser, Heath risks carpal tunnel syndrome like a modern man-with mouse and keyboard. During the 10 years Heath taught at Queens College (a 15-minute drive from his apartment), he learned how to make music from MIDI, but Heath is still a traditionalist when it comes to performance. “I use simulations of the sounds when I’m making big-band arrangements, but then when I get a real orchestra or band to play it, and they put the breath of life in it, then it’s real. All these souped-up synthesizers really sound like they are glorified accordions.”

We may not get to hear an update on Miles Davis’ Tutu from Heath’s synths, but we do get plenty of what he does best: hard bop. Heath’s concert schedule is always busy, playing regular gigs with his brothers, bassist Percy and drummer Tootie, or playing as a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni Band. He keeps his chops in order: If he’s not out playing concerts or giving workshops and clinics at schools, Heath is hard at work perfecting his music every day he’s at home. “My life outside of music is very limited. Music-I think I was put on the earth to be a musician.”

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