Jimmy Heath Biography

James Edward Heath, 25 October 1926, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. The most versatile of the Heath brothers, saxophonist Jimmy joined the Howard McGhee band in 1947 with his older brother Percy Heath. Towards the end of the 40s he worked with Dizzy Gillespie, playing alto saxophone in small and big bands. Stylistically, Heath’s playing was broader and more personalized when he began playing tenor, a change which also helped him to throw off a tendency to follow too closely in the footsteps of his musical idol Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. In the mid-50s Heath’s career was interrupted by a prison sentence for drug offences. In the 60s he co-led bands with Art Farmer and in 1975 became leader of the Heath Brothers band.

In the following decades Heath mostly led his own band, although the family group remained in occasional existence and reunited on record for the 1997 Concord session, As We Were Saying... . Despite being a good alto player and a distinctive tenorist, Heath’s chief contribution has been his writing. Whether as composer, arranger or both, and whether writing for small or large ensembles, he has consistently shown himself to be interesting and resourceful. Some of his compositions have been on a grand scale, including the ‘Afro-American Suite Of Evolution’ while other shorter but no less impressive works were recorded by Miles Davis, among them ‘CTA’ and ‘Gingerbread Boy’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.