Jimmy Heath Ensemble – Live at Morgan College – May 25, 1965 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Jimmy Heath in concert this week. Joined by Sonny Red on Alto sax, Pepper Adams on baritone sax, Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Cedar Walton on trumpet, Reggie Workman on bass and Roy Brooks on drums. All recorded at Morgan College in Baltimore on May 25th, 1965.
Heath, nicknamed Little Bird, was the brother of bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert Heath. He originally played alto saxophone. He earned the nickname “Little Bird” after his work for Howard McGhee and Dizzy Gillespie in the late 1940s, during which his playing displayed influences from Charlie Parker (Parker’s nickname was “Bird”). He then switched to tenor saxophone.
From late 1945 through most of 1946, he performed with the Nat Towles band. In 1946, he formed his own band, which was a fixture on the Philadelphia jazz scene until 1949. The band 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. The band performed at venues such as the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Although Heath recalls that the band recorded a few demos on acetate, it never released any recordings, and its arrangements were lost at a Chicago train station. The band dissolved in 1949 so that Heath could join Dizzy Gillespie’s band.
He briefly joined Miles Davis’s group in 1959, replacing Coltrane, and also worked with Kenny Dorham and Gil Evans. Heath recorded extensively as leader and sideman. During the 1960s, he frequently worked with Milt Jackson and Art Farmer.
In 1975, he and his brothers formed the Heath Brothers, also featuring pianist Stanley Cowell.
Jimmy Heath composed “For Minors Only”, “Picture of Heath”, “Bruh’ Slim”, and “CTA” and recorded them on his 1975 album Picture of Heath.
In the 1980s, Heath joined the faculty of the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, City University of New York. With the rank of Professor, he led the creation of the Jazz Program at Queens College and attracted prominent musicians such as Donald Byrd to the campus. He also served on the Board of the Louis Armstrong Archives on campus, and the restoration and management of the Louis and Lucille Armstrong Residence in Corona, Queens, near his own home. In addition to teaching at Queens College for more than 20 years, he also taught at Jazzmobile.
Jimmy Heath died on January 19, 2020 in Loganville, Georgia, of natural causes.
Fall back to 1965 and have a taste of what Little Bird was up to at Morgan College.