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Jimmy Heath: Why Ben Webster Learned the Lyrics

The Jazz Video Guy captures legendary saxophonist during Before & After session moderated by Larry Appelbaum

At this year’s Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, an annual event held in February in Rockville, Maryland, JT’s Larry Appelbaum conducted a “Before and After” with Jimmy Heath. Larry graciously allowed me to document this interview. (Jimmy’s entire “Before and After” appears in the April print edition of JazzTimes.)

Jimmy Heath has long been recognized as a brilliant instrumentalist and a magnificent composer and arranger. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 25, 1926, the middle Heath brother (bassist Percy is older, drummer Albert (“Tootie”) the baby), his genius first flourished in high school as an alto saxophonist. In fact, his first nickname was “Little Bird.” One of Jimmy’s earliest big bands (1947-1948) in Philadelphia included John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Specs Wright, Cal Massey, Johnny Coles, Ray Bryant, and Nelson Boyd. Charlie Parker and Max Roach sat in on one occasion.

Not surprisingly, Jimmy Heath is a master storyteller and oh what stories he can tell. Although he’s approaching eighty five, his memory is still intact, as is his potent wit. Thankfully, his playing reflects that, as well. Spending time with Jimmy Heath is always entertaining and enlightening. I’m happy that I was able to capture that here.

Originally Published