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The Heath Brothers: 3 At Last

Jimmy Heath
Percy Heath
Albert Heath

If swinging good taste and the pursuit of the good groove in service to impeccable compositions and arrangements are to your liking, then clap hands ’cause the Heath Brothers have reunited on the heels of As We Were Saying on Concord Records. One of the first families of jazz, the Heaths of Philadelphia have been contributing mightily to the jazz language since the late ’40s. After a stint in the military, inspired first by his musical parents and perhaps also by the successful example of his younger brother Jimmy, Percy purchased a bass fiddle in 1946 and by 1949 had moved to New York and was hanging out on Sugar Hill jamming with such fellow neighborhood aspirants as Art Taylor, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Drew and Jackie McLean. In the meantime sax and flute man Jimmy began playing in dance bands around Philly in 1943, right out of high school. Youngest brother Albert slaked his thirst for rhythm by taking up the traps.

All three became successful in their own right. Percy went on to freelance with many of the bebop pioneers, then joined the fabled Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, whose rhythm section became the Modern Jazz Quartet after Percy succeeded Ray Brown, thus launching their 43-year-career. Jimmy, too, came under the spell of the great Gillespie, threw off the Little Bird moniker when he relinquished the alto sax in favor of the tenor, and became one of the music’s most dependable and underrated composer-arrangers. Albert, a.k.a. Tootie and a.k.a. Kuumba, molded himself into a highly sought after freelance trap drummer and percussionist, putting in notable stints with J.J. Johnson, the Jazztet, and a particularly brilliant late ’60s-early ’70s Herbie Hancock ensemble.

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Originally Published

Willard Jenkins

Willard Jenkins has covered jazz artists, performances, and the jazz infrastructure since his early-’70s undergrad days writing for The Black Watch student newspaper at Kent State University. Additionally, he has been a jazz broadcaster since 1973— currently programming at WPFW in Washington, D.C.—and a jazz concerts and festivals presenter since 1978. He currently serves as artistic director of the DC Jazz Festival and artistic director of jazz programming at Tribeca Performing Arts Center (NYC). A founding member of the Jazz Journalists Association, he is also a recipient of its Lifetime Achievement award.