Speaking of tenor saxophone legends who are still going strong, Jimmy Heath has just released Endurance, a CD co-led with his younger brother, drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath. Endurance features six Heath originals, a composition by pianist Jeb Patton and the standard Autumn in New York. Like James Moody, Heath is a workhorse who continues to tour relentlessly and turn out dynamic, meaningful recordings. From start to finish, this new album is warm, engaging and loaded with sharp ideas by both Heath brothers.
Jimmy Heath, 82, began his career on the alto saxophone in 1948 when he and his older brother, bassist Percy, joined Howard McGhee's sextet. The following year he was in Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra sitting next to John Coltrane, who also happened to be playing alto saxophone at the time. In the early 1950s Heath switched to tenor and in 1953 recorded for Blue Note with the Miles Davis All Stars. Heath stayed with the tenor sax and began recording with a range of early hard bop groups.
But Heath's rise would be cut short when he was sent to prison in 1955 for drug possession. At the Lewisburg Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, Heath continued to play and lead prison bands. Upon release in 1959, Heath replaced John Coltrane for two months in the Miles Davis' Quintet. In the early 1960s, Heath recorded on several hard bop sessions, including Freddie Hubbard's Hub Cap (1961), Elmo Hope's Homecoming (1961) and a series of sessions with Nat Adderley and Milt Jackson. In 1965, Heath began co-leading recordings with trumpeter Art Farmer.
In the early 1970s, Heath recorded with a wide range of artists and in bands of varying sizes. Among his most notable dates from this period include Charles Earland's Black Drops (1970), with a roaring solo on Lazy Bird. He also played on Ray Charles' Jazz Number II (1971) and My Kind of Jazz III (1975), and released a leadership album, Picture of Heath (1975).
In 1978, he and his brothers Percy and Albert formed the Heath Brothers, and the trio recorded together until 1998. Since then, Jimmy has recorded as a sideman on big band dates and from time to time as a leader.
On Endurance, Jimmy Heath exhibits enormous soul and swing. When I first put the album on, I found I couldn't take it off easily. There's so much good taste here—and absolutely no padding. Every note, melodic twist and solo matters. And the CD's sonic production is sterling. The music rushes up to greet you and won't let go. Joining Jimmy and Albert are pianist Jeb Patton and bassist David Wong.
Ordinarily I'd click off songs that were particularly moving, but everything on this CD is performed at a consistently high level, with tracks fitting together seamlessly. Tunes range in mood and rhythm from the soft minor-major bossa nova Changes to the march-time Wall to Wall. Jimmy dedicated Two Tees to brother Albert "Tootie" Heath, but there are shades of Elmo Hope's Roll On here. There's also a lovely mid-tempo Autumn in New York that's just right—not too sentimental or insensitive. Jimmy switches to soprano sax on the ballad From a Lonely Bass, which includes fine arco bowing by Wong.
This is cooking music from fraternal masters, both of whom have plenty more to say.
JazzWax tracks: Endurance (Jazz Legacy Productions) can be found as a download at iTunes (under "Heath Brothers") or at Amazon. Or it's available on CD here and other online retailers.
JazzWax clip: Here's a clip of Tadd from That's Right!, a fabulous little known Riverside album from 1960 led by Nat Adderley. Jimmy has a crisp solo 2:00 into the clip...