Jimmy Heath

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Jimmy Heath
Percy Heath & Jimmy Heath.jpg
Percy Heath and Jimmy (1977)
Background information
Birth name James Edward Heath
Also known as Little Bird
Born (1926-10-25) October 25, 1926 (age 89)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Genres Jazz, bebop, hard bop
Occupation(s) Musician, educator, composer, arranger
Instruments Tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute
Years active 1940s–present
Labels Riverside, Limelight, Impulse!, Atlantic, Verve, Xanadu, Landmark, Steeplechase
Associated acts Heath Brothers, Howard McGhee, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Art Farmer, Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Curtis Fuller, Julius Watkins, Nat Adderley, Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Kenny Burrell
Website www.jimmyheath.com

James Edward Heath (born October 25, 1926),[1] nicknamed Little Bird, is an American jazz saxophonist, composer, arranger and big band leader. He is the brother of bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert Heath.


Heath 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.[1]

During World War II, Heath was rejected for the draft for being under the weight limit. 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 Philly jazz scene until 1949. John Coltrane was one of four saxophonists in this band, which played gigs with Charlie Parker and also at 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.[2]

One of Heath’s earliest big 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 in on one occasion. 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

He briefly joined Miles Davis's group in 1959, replacing Coltrane, and also worked with Kenny Dorham and Gil Evans.[1][3] Heath recorded extensively as leader and sideman. During the 1960s, he frequently worked with Milt Jackson and Art Farmer.[1]

In 1975, he and his brothers formed the Heath Brothers, also featuring pianist Stanley Cowell.[1]

Heath composed most of the 1956 Chet Baker and Art Pepper album Playboys.[1]

Composed C.T.A., Gingerbread Boy among others.

In the 1980s, Heath joined the faculty of the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College in the 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.[4] In addition to teaching at Queens College for over twenty years, he has also taught at Jazzmobile.[3] Heath was a recipient of the 2003 NEA Jazz Masters Award.[3] In 2004, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Human Letters.[5]

Heath is the father of R&B songwriter/musician James Mtume.[6]


As leader[edit]

With the Heath Brothers[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Continuum


  1. ^ a b c d e f Allmusic biography
  2. ^ Porter, Lewis. John Coltrane: His Life and Music Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1999. ISBN 0-472-10161-7 58–61.
  3. ^ a b c Friedwald, Will (July 19, 2010). "A Jazz Colossus Steps Out". The Wall Street Journal (New York: Dow Jones & Co.). ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved July 20, 2010. 
  4. ^ Berman, Eleanor. "The jazz of Queens encompasses music royalty", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 1, 2006. Accessed October 1, 2009. "When the trolley tour proceeds, Mr. Knight points out the nearby Dorie Miller Houses, a co-op apartment complex in Corona where Clark Terry and Cannonball and Nat Adderley lived and where saxophonist Jimmy Heath still resides."
  5. ^ CUNY.edu
  6. ^ National Endowment for the Arts. "NEA Jazz Masters: Jimmy Heath". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved July 20, 2010. 
  7. ^ Allmusic review

External links[edit]