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Jimmy Heath

Four Classic Albums


[76:40 + 76:03]


The Thumper
1. For Minors Only*
2. Who Needs It?
3. Don’t You Know I Care?
4. Two Tees*
5. The Thumper*
6. Newkeep*
7. For All We Know
8. I Can Make You Love Me
9. Nice People*
Really Big!
10. Big “P”*
11. Old Fashioned Fun*
12. Mona’s Mood*
13. Dat Dere
14. Nails*
15. On Green Dolphin Street
16. My Ideal
17. The Picture Of Heath*

The Quota
1. The Quota*
2. Lowland Lullaby*
3. Thinking Of You
4. Bells And Horns
5. Down Shift*
6. When Sunny Gets Blue
7. Funny Time*
Triple Threat
8. Gemini*
9. Bruh Slim*
10. Goodbye
11. Dew And Mud*
12. Make Someone Happy
13. The More I See You
14. Prospecting*

The Thumper : Jimmy Heath (tenor sax),Curtis Fuller (trombone),Nat Adderley (cornet), Wynton Kelly (piano),Paul Chambers (bass), Albert Heath (drums). Rec. New York, November 27 & 30, December 7, 1959.

Really Big! : Jimmy Heath (tenor sax),Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley (alto sax),Pat Patrick (baritone sax),Clark terry (trumpet),Nat Adderley (cornet), Tom McIntosh (trombone), Dick Berg (French horn),Tommy Flanagan (tracks 10, 11, 15)/Cedar Walton (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Albert Heath (drums). Rec. New York, June 24 & 28, 1960.

The Quota : Jimmy Heath (tenor), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Julius Watkins (French horn), Cedar Walton (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Albert Heath (drums). Rec. New York, April 14 & 20, 1961.

Triple Threat : Jimmy Heath (tenor), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Julius Watkins (French horn), Cedar Walton (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Albert Heath (drums). Rec. New York, January 4 & 17, 1962.

The late Jimmy Heath (1926-2020) was a thoroughly accomplished musician, whether as a composer, an arranger an instrumentalist – initially playing alto sax (when he acquired the nickname ‘Little Bird’) and later the tenor sax, he was always surefooted, reliable, sophisticated and imaginative, without ever quite becoming one of that elite group of tenor players one can identify within a few bars of any solo. When he called his autobiography (published in 2010) I Walked with Giants he may have been acknowledging the fact that he wasn’t quite a jazz ‘giant’, as well as referring to his height – he was five foot three. Many of his compositions (e.g. ‘For Minors Only’ and ‘Gemini’) were taken up by other musicians (in the track list above, Heath’s compositions are marked by an asterisk). Almost without exception his arrangements add to the success of either his music or that of other writers, often making ensembles sound larger than they actually are, setting up solos very well and creating a clear, purposeful structure within which individual musicians can work and be heard at their best.

This 2 CD set from Avid reissues the first four albums Heath recorded as a leader, ) between 1959 and 1962 (all for the Riverside label, founded by Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer in 1953). Heath’s musical experience was extensive before he recorded The Thumper in 1959, aged 33. In the 1940s he worked with the band of bassist Nat Towles and trumpeters Howard McGhee (1947-8) and Dizzy Gillespie (1949-50). He had drug problems in the early 1950s and served custodial sentences in 1954 and from 1955-59. Thereafter he freed himself from his addiction to heroin, and worked with, amongst many others, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Kenny Dorham, Art Farmer, Kenny Drew and Gil Evans. Later in his career he formed (in 1975) a band called ‘The Heath Brothers’ with his siblings, bassist Percy (1923-2005) and drummer Albert, usually known simply as Al (b.1935). The band made some 10 albums. Before recording these Riverside albums, Jimmy Heath had made recordings with Howard McGhee (in 1948), and with Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham (both 1953) as well as with Blue Mitchell in September of 1959.

The Thumper is quite lightly arranged and nearer than Heath-led sessions usually were to being the kind of studio ‘blowing session’ that was common around this time. Even here, however, it is notable how skillfully Heath’s writing uses Fuller’s trombone to fill out the sound of the tenor and cornet front line. ‘The Thumper’ is cleverly constructed and inventive, a good deal subtler than its title might lead one to expect; the opening of ‘For All We Know’ is beautifully voiced. Most of the tracks use the whole sextet, but ‘Don’t You Know I Care’ is played (rather well) by Heath and the rhythm section only. Not, perhaps a ‘great’ album, but one full of fine playing from all concerned. Incidentally, ‘For Minors Only’ which was to become one of the most popular tunes by Heath so far as other musicians were concerned, was first recorded in 1956 by Chet Baker and Art Pepper on their album Playboys, along with other tunes by Heath (‘Resonant Emotions’, ‘Picture of Heath’, ‘For Miles and Miles’ and ‘C.T.A.’), after the music was allegedly smuggled out of the Lewisburg Penitentiary, where Jimmy Heath was currently ‘residing’.

On Really Big! Heath’s skills as an arranger are naturally more prominent, given that he has a ten-piece band to work with. And how very good the arrangements are! Though the arrangements are tight, room is left for the soloists to express their individuality. Heath springs a surprise on the first track by beginning with the unaccompanied bass of brother Percy. ‘Mona’s Mood’ is a gorgeous, but not excessively lush, ballad arrangement. In the bluesy ‘Old Fashioned Fun’ there are some quirky turns, while soloists such as Heath himself, Adderley the altoist and, briefly, Dick Berg get their moments in the spotlight. Right across the album there are engaging solos by Heath, Clark Terry, the Adderley brothers and both pianists (Walton sounds more at home than Flanagan, on the whole). The youngest of the Heath brothers (and the only one still alive), drummer Al ‘Tootie’ Heath is superb throughout the album. His time and subtlety are a treat.

With The Quota Heath is leading a sextet again, as in The Thumper. But there is a significant difference in instrumentation. On The Thumper the band was made up of cornet, trombone, tenor sax (Heath), plus piano, bass and drums. Now, on The Quota, the trombone has gone, being replaced by the French horn of Julius Watkins. His presence ensures that there is a distinctive colour to the ensemble sound, something which evidently appealed to Heath’s arranger’s ear; but Watkins also gets more chances as a soloist than he usually had on other recordings, except on the two sessions he led – Julian Watkins Sextet (Blue Note, released 1955) and French Horns for my Lady (Philips, 1962). I used to have a vinyl copy of The Quota and I remember thinking, then, that the 23-year old trumpeter Freddie Hubbard was the outstanding soloist on the album. Listening again, now, Hubbard is the most immediately dazzling, certainly, but some of the bravura playing now seems to me to have relatively little meaning behind its fire. Heath is the subtler musician. His solo on the Jack Segal and Marvin Fisher song ‘When Sunny Gets Blue’ is a small masterpiece of restrained emotion and attractive melodic invention. Away from extended solos, the exchange of ‘fours’ on ‘Thinking of You’ deserves to be listened to carefully, with Al Heath again doing himself much credit. Percy Heath takes a fine solo on ‘The Quota’ and everywhere sustains, with his brother Al and Cedar Walton, the rhythms underlying all that the horns do. A very satisfying album.

The title of Triple Threat seems to refer to Heath as player, composer and arranger, but it could also be taken to relate to the presence, in this sextet, of three top class soloists, Heath, Hubbard and Walton. Recorded less than a year after The Quota, Triple Threat is played by exactly the same line-up. Hubbard is less flamboyant than he was on the previous album but is at least (if not more) impressive. Jimmy Heath is on fine form throughout, while Walton plays beautifully and, without clichés, soulfully. Again it is good to hear Julius Watkins given the opportunity to improvise. The whole sextet is present on five tracks; ‘Make Someone Happy’ and ‘The More I See You’ are by Heath with just piano, bass and drums. Julius Watkins makes an interesting solo contribution on ‘Gemini’; on ‘Bruh Slim’ Hubbard takes a well-constructed solo and that by Walton blends lyricism and rhythmic drive very effectively. On ‘Goodbye’, written in the 1930s by Gordon Jenkins, the sound at the opening suggests a larger line up than Hubbard, Heath and Watkins – another example of Heath’s skills as an arranger; another example follows in the subtle use of trumpet and French horn behind the leader’s tenor. Watkins takes only a short solo on this track, but it packs a decided punch. On the two quartet tracks (both jazz standards), Heath’s tenor sound has both muscle and tenderness. These tracks are some of Jimmy Heath’s best recorded work, his improvisation sustaining the listener’s interest at some length – and the contribution of the rhythm section is of the highest order. It is a touch very characteristic of Heath the arranger that ‘Prospecting’ should open with an intro from brother Percy’s bass – rather like ‘Big “P”’ on Really Big !. Heath’s solo here is relatively routine – at times suggesting that he had been listening (a little too much?) to Dexter Gordon, bur Hubbard and Walton make up for it.

These four albums maintain a consistently high standard and can be recommended wholeheartedly. It was in bebop that Jimmy Heath grew up as a musician and bop always remained at the heart of his music, though never in a way that limited his imagination, whether as a tenor player, a composer or an arranger. This excellent 2-CD set gathers the best of Heath’s early recordings as a leader and would form an ideal basis for a collection of Heath’s work. The Riverside recordings of this period generally had good recorded sound; all four of these do.

For those wanting to go further, recommended recordings under Jimmy Heath’s own name include Swamp Seed (1963), for its outstanding arrangements, the quartet album Picture of Heath (1975) or Changes (1987) with a band including a number of younger musicians. On a later (1995) quartet recording (with guitar rather than piano) for Steeplechase, You Or Me, Heath demonstrates that he had lost nothing as a soloist. Of the recordings by ‘The Heath Brothers’, As We Were Saying… (1997) and Jazz Family (1998) are especially enjoyable.

Glyn Pursglove

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