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date: 26 September 2020

Heath, Jimmy [James Edward; Little Bird]free

  • Luca Cerchiari

Updated in this version

death date added

(b Philadelphia, Oct 25, 1926; d Loganville, GA, Jan 19, 2020). American saxophonist, flutist, composer, arranger, and educator, father of the percussionist Mtume Heath and brother of the bass player Percy Heath and the drummer Albert Heath. He was born into a musical family and was influenced by Charlie Parker on alto saxophone and by John Coltrane on tenor. During the 1940s and early 1950s he played with Howard McGhee, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. On tenor, he developed a pleasant hard-bop style, featuring a warm timbre, neat, consequential phrasings, and an efficient rhythmical drive. After working with Kenny Dorham, in the 1960s and 1970s Heath led groups that included Art Farmer and Stanley Cowell. During the same period he worked as a sideman for many players associated with the modern mainstream style, including Ray Brown, Benny Carter, Gil Fuller, Red Garland, Milt Jackson, and Freddie Hubbard. He also recorded for Riverside, Cobblestone, Impulse, and Verve, among other labels. In 1974 he and his brothers formed with Cowell the Heath Brothers, which toured and recorded for various labels including Columbia, Strata-East, and Concord. Heath wrote modern standards, notably “CTA,” “Gingerbread Boy,” and “Gemini”; orchestral arrangements, including “Afro-American Suite of Evolution,” “Three Ears,” and “In Praise”; and scores for Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Milt Jackson, and Clark Terry, among others. He taught at Housatonic Community College, CUNY, and the Aaron Copland School of Music and was nominated three times for a Grammy Award.


  • P. Welding: “The Return of Jimmy Heath,” DB, 28/5 (1961), 16
  • D. Salemann: Jimmy Heath: Solography, Discography, Band Routes, Engagements, in Chronological Order (Basel, 1986)
  • A. Nahigian: “‘You Can’t Buy Experience’: the Heath Brothers,” DB, 65/1 (1998), 31
  • W. Friedwald: “A Jazz Colossus Steps Out,” Wall Street Journal (July 19, 2010)
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