In the fall of 2019, saxophonist/composer/arranger Jimmy Heath and a long list of illustrious guests including Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Barron, Gregory Porter, Russell Malone, and Cécile McLorin Salvant entered recording studios in New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles to make what would become Heath’s final album for Verve Records, a collection of ballads called Love Letter. On the first day of recording (October 24, the day before Heath’s 93rd birthday), a film crew was there to capture the proceedings for posterity. JazzTimes is honored to premiere the end result of their work: the mini-documentary The Love Letter Sessions.
The film includes footage of Heath and crew recording his arrangement of Kenny Dorham’s “La Mesha,” his own “Ballad from Upper Neighbors Suite,” and Mal Waldron’s “Left Alone” (the latter featuring vocals by Salvant). Heath can be seen instructing and chatting with the various players both in person and via Skype, as well as playing soprano and tenor saxophone. Barron and Marsalis provide occasional offscreen commentary.
“It was a treat to be able to capture the artists—all honored to be playing Jimmy’s new arrangements, and Jimmy—thrilled that he had the A team in the house, presiding over it all with such pride,” the album’s co-producer Carol Friedman says. “A collective high bar and reciprocal respect set the tone, along with plenty of Mr. Heath’s famous humor.”
Friedman’s fellow producer Brian Bacchus adds, “Jimmy truly lived a life of love. And everyone showed up at the drop of a hat to pour it right back to him, all without ego. He was teaching us all about what is truly important, through his music and musical statements, right till the very end. Bravo, maestro!”Originally Published