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The Heath Brothers: Brotherly Jazz

Jimmy Heath
Percy Heath
Tootie Heath

Brotherly Jazz, the engaging and insightful 70-minute documentary DVD exploring the lives and careers of remarkable siblings Tootie, Jimmy and Percy Heath, almost collapsed before it ever got off the ground. Danny Scher, who made a mint as vice president of Bill Graham Presents, wanted to present the Heath Brothers in the backyard amphitheatre of his historic Berkeley Hills home as part of a 2004 fundraiser for the Jazzschool, the unique educational institution founded by pianist Susan Muscarella. While drummer Tootie and saxophonist/arranger Jimmy quickly signed on for the gig, bassist Percy wasn’t interested, though he hadn’t figured on Scher’s persuasiveness. The impresario got him on the phone, and each time Percy raised an objection about what it would cost to get him from his Long Island home to Berkeley, Scher said he’d cover the expense. Eventually, he realized that Scher was walking the walk, and asked him why. “I said, ‘Listen Percy, my whole life I’ve overpaid musicians, many of whom couldn’t play their instruments, and most of whom haven’t paid their dues,'” Scher says. “‘The least I can do is pay someone who has.’ And that was it. I called Tootie and said, ‘He’s in.'”

Jazz fans everywhere should be grateful for Scher’s persistence, because what started as a simple benefit concert evolved into an incisive family portrait and loving valedictory for Percy, who died in 2005, two days short of his 82nd birthday. The film is more of a character study than a detailed account of the brothers’ careers. By sketching the Philadelphia scene out of which they emerged and briefly highlighting key moments in the Heaths’ lives, the film creates a vivid sense of each brother’s personality, capturing Percy’s quiet self-confidence, Jimmy’s sensitive pride and Tootie’s affable humor.

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