I am greatly indebted to Thomas Bellino, whose Planet Arts-a not-for-profit company involved in a network of educational and culturally awakening projects-includes Planet Arts Recordings. His latest release, Turn Up the Heath by the Jimmy Heath Big Band (planetarts.org), made me realize that in all these years writing about this music, I have ignored one of the most deeply satisfying and personal arranger-composers in jazz-especially evident when his instrument is a big band.
Jimmy Heath is hardly unrecognized. A 2003 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, he is greatly respected by his jazz peers. As George Wein says in the course of the indispensable DVD, Brotherly Jazz: The Heath Brothers (brotherlyjazz.com), “If you have to have an arranger, you call Jimmy. And if you need a saxophone player for a session, Jimmy is there.” But I wonder how many jazz listeners around the world know that, as Herbie Hancock emphasizes in the film, “Jimmy is a master composer.” In his notes to Turn Up the Heath, Jimmy writes, “My first love has always been the big band, our symphony orchestra.” But in his long and still vigorous career-encompassing his appearance on more than 125 recordings-he’s had far too few opportunities to record his arrangements (which are compositions) and his original pieces with a big band.