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JT Notes: The Persistence of In Memoriam

Editor Mac Randall's column for the March 2020 issue introduces JazzTimes' 15th annual In Memoriam feature and pays tribute to Jimmy Heath

Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath performs at the 2016 Newport Jazz Festival (photo: Marek Lazarski)

And so it comes ’round again: our In Memoriam issue, JazzTimes’ 15th annual collection of tributes to significant figures in the jazz community who left our plane of existence in the preceding year. (If you want to learn how this tradition got started, read Lee Mergner’s latest JT 50 column.) It’s a testament to just how many such figures passed away last year that this issue’s tributes have spilled over the page count originally allotted to them and seeped into other parts of the magazine. John Edward Hasse’s essay on Rep. John Conyers is in Opening Chorus, while Nicholas Payton’s memories of fellow New Orleanian Dr. John can be found on our back page. This was due in part to the deaths of Jack Sheldon and Vic Juris at the very end of December—two musicians who clearly deserved inclusion.

The addition of Sheldon and Juris means that 21 people are remembered in these pages. That number, of course, doesn’t come close to covering every jazz person of note that we lost in 2019. Among the others, most of whom appeared in our Farewells section over the past 10 issues: Alvin Fielder, Ralph Jungheim, Horst Liepolt, Michel Legrand, Willie Thomas, Ethel Ennis, Ed Bickert, Jeff Andrews, John Oddo, Chris Albertson, Bo Leibowitz, Faith Winthrop, Julian Euell, Art Neville, Bob Wilber, Steve Dalachinsky, Vic Vogel, Ray Santos, George Masso, Bill Henderson (a.k.a. Kemang Sunduza), Gerry Teekens, Eddie Duran, and Herbert Joos.

And the hits, so to speak, keep on coming. Just before this issue went to press in January, I received almost simultaneous word of the deaths of two more pillars of the music, Jimmy Heath and Claudio Roditi. My knowledge of Mr. Roditi, who will take a prominent spot in the Farewells section of our next issue, is unfortunately limited only to recordings. But I did have the great honor of interviewing Mr. Heath three years ago for this magazine; you can find the piece—a Bright Moments feature, discussing highlights of his vast back catalog—in our June 2017 issue.

Mr. Heath was 90 at the time, but his advancing age seemed to have no effect on his memory. He easily recalled events of some 60 years before, including his first recording session with Milt Jackson and an engagement at Chicago’s Argyle Show Lounge alongside Howard McGhee that ended with the club owner pulling out a gun. Our initial interview lasted well over an hour and a half, but that wasn’t the end of it. As the week went on, he kept remembering even more bits of information and calling me about them. One time I wasn’t near the phone, so he left a voicemail saying, among other things, that “I want to drop some details on you”—an ear-catching phrase that demonstrated his love of language nearly as much as the nicknames he famously devised for just about anyone he encountered (Lew Tabackin, for example, became “Chew Tobacco” and Grady Tate was “Gravy Taker”). A man, or woman, like that is every journalist’s dream.

Jimmy Heath called his autobiography I Walked With Giants. Despite his own diminutive stature, he will surely be remembered as a giant too, for generations to come.

Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.