Jimmy Heath Bio
Jimmy Heath’s real Name is James Edward Heath also used nicknamed Little Bird. Jimmy, a tenor saxophonist whose sharp and lively compositions became part of the midcentury jazz canon — and who found new prominence in middle age as a co-leader of a popular band with his two brothers — died on Sunday at his home in Loganville, Ga. He was 93.
Jimmy Quick Facts You Need to Know
James Edward Heath Biography
Heath was born in Philadelphia on October 25, 1926. He originally played alto saxophone, but, after the influence of Charlie Parker on his work for Howard McGhee and Dizzy Gillespie in the late 1940s, he earned the nickname “Little Bird” (Parker’s nickname was “Bird”) and he switched to tenor saxophone.
His career in many ways tracked the life cycle of postwar jazz in the United States. After touring with dance bands, he moved on to the fresher, more cosmopolitan bebop style, playing in groups led by the trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.
Originally an alto saxophonist, he earned the nickname Little Bird for his ability to emulate the fleet playing of the bebop pioneer Charlie Parker, known as Bird. He soon switched to the tenor, partly to skirt the comparisons, and established himself as a central figure on the New York scene.
During World War II, Heath was rejected by the draft for being below the weight limit. From late 1945 until most of 1946 he performed with the band Nat Towles. In 1946 he formed his own band, which was part of the Philadelphia jazz scene until 1949. John Coltrane was one of the four saxophonists of this band, who played with Charlie Parker and also at the Harlem Apollo Theater. Although Heath remembers that the band recorded some demos in acetate, he never released any recording, and his arrangements were lost at a Chicago train station. The band was dissolved in 1949 so that Heath could join Dizzy Gillespie’s band.
One of Heath’s first major bands (1947-1948) in Philadelphia included John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Specs Wright, Cal Massey, Johnny Coles, Ray Bryant and Nelson Boyd. Charlie Parker and Max Roach sat once.
Heath was arrested and convicted twice for selling heroin; He was a recognized addict. The first time, in the spring of 1954, he was sent to the Federal Prison Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, where many musicians and celebrities (and others) were treated. After the release, in early 1955, still addicted, he was arrested again and served most of a six-year prison sentence in Lewisburg. He went crazy and could spend a lot of time dedicated to music.
While in prison, he composed most of the 1956 album Chet Baker and Art Pepper Playboys. He was released early, on May 21, 1959, and has been clean ever since; The conditions of probation made it difficult, but he managed to start rebuilding his career. At a party back home the night after his release, he met his eventual wife, Mona Brown, whom he married in 1960; They have two children, Roslyn and Jeffrey.
He briefly joined the Miles Davis group in 1959, replacing Coltrane, and also worked with Kenny Dorham and Gil Evans. Heath registered extensively as a leader and companion. During the 1960s, he worked frequently with Milt Jackson and Art Farmer.
In 1975, he and his brothers formed the Heath Brothers, also with 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 of the University of the City of New York. With the rank of Professor, he directed 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 Louis Armstrong Archives Board on campus, and in the restoration and administration of the Louis and Lucille Armstrong Residence in Corona, Queens, near his own home. In addition to teaching at Queens College for over twenty years, he has also taught at Jazzmobile. Heath received the 2003 NEA Jazz Masters Award. In 2004, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in human letters.
In 2010, he launched his autobiography I Walked With Giants at Temple University Press.
Jimmy Heath Son James Mtume
Heath was also the father of R&B composer/musician James Mtume.
James Mtume Death and Cause
His grandson Fa Mtume confirmed his death. Heath died on January 19, 2020 in Loganville, Georgia, from natural causes.
James Heath Awards
He received Grammy nomination for box set liner notes of The Heavyweight Champion, John Coltrane, the Complete Atlantic Recordings (Rhino), 1995, Grammy nomination for Little Man Big Band (Verve), 1994 and for Live at the Public Theatre (Columbia), with The Heath Brothers, 1980.