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PITTSBURGH JAZZ

 

From Blakey to Brown, Como to Costa, Eckstine to Eldridge, Galbraith to Garner, Harris to Hines, Horne to Hyman, Jamal to Jefferson, Kelly to Klook; Mancini to Marmarosa, May to Mitchell, Negri to Nestico, Parlan to Ponder, Reed to Ruther, Strayhorn to Sullivan, Turk to Turrentine, Wade to Williams… the forthcoming publication Treasury of Pittsburgh Jazz Connections by Dr. Nelson Harrison and Dr. Ralph Proctor, Jr. will document the legacy of one of the world’s greatest jazz capitals.

 

Do you want to know who Dizzy Gillespie  idolized? Did you ever wonder who inspired Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey? Who was the pianist that mentored Monk, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Elmo Hope, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme? Who was Art Tatum’s idol and Nat Cole’s mentor? What musical quartet pioneered the concept adopted later by the Modern Jazz Quartet? Were you ever curious to know who taught saxophone to Stanley Turrentine or who taught piano to Ahmad Jamal? What community music school trained Robert McFerrin, Sr. for his history-making debut with the Metropolitan Opera? What virtually unknown pianist was a significant influence on young John Coltrane, Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant when he moved to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in the 1940s?  Would you be surprised to know that Erroll Garner attended classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York and was at the top of his class in writing and arranging proficiency?

 

Some answers  can be gleaned from the postings on the Pittsburgh Jazz Network.

 

For almost 100 years the Pittsburgh region has been a metacenter of jazz originality that is second to no other in the history of jazz.  One of the best kept secrets in jazz folklore, the Pittsburgh Jazz Legacy has heretofore remained mythical.  We have dubbed it “the greatest story never told” since it has not been represented in writing before now in such a way as to be accessible to anyone seeking to know more about it.  When it was happening, little did we know how priceless the memories would become when the times were gone.

 

Today jazz is still king in Pittsburgh, with events, performances and activities happening all the time. The Pittsburgh Jazz Network is dedicated to celebrating and showcasing the places, artists and fans that carry on the legacy of Pittsburgh's jazz heritage.

 

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Duke Ellington is first African-American and the first musician to solo on U.S. circulating coin

    MARY LOU WILLIAMS     

            INTERVIEW

       In Her Own Words
3-Minute Listen

Saxophonist, composer and arranger Jimmy Heath.

Lonnie Timmons III/Getty Images

Jimmy Heath, a prolific saxophonist, composer and bandleader who played alongside some of the biggest names of jazz, including Miles Davis and John Coltrane, has died.

Heath died Sunday morning in Loganville, Georgia of natural causes, his grandson told NPR. He was 93 years old. His family was at his side, including his wife of 60 years, Mona Heath, his children Mtume and Rozie, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and his brother, drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath.

In a career that spanned seven decades, Heath brought the bebop he loved to big bands — and into the 21st century.

Heath is best known as a saxophonist, but he wrote and arranged music throughout his life. In 2013, when he was 87 years old, he told NPR it was important to be a complete musician. "Not just to stand up and improvise," he stressed. "You know, you got to compose. I want to be a person who can compose, and leave something here for posterity."

Heath left hundreds of compositions that were performed by his own bands, and others.

Phil Schaap is a curator of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He says that one of Jimmy Heath's most important contributions was bringing the bebop revolution of the 1940s to succeeding generations.

Jazz Legacy Films YouTube

"Moses is dead. The tablets are still here," Schaap declares. "Well, Jimmy Heath read the commandments of jazz, and he got the tablets from the great prophets. And he used it his way to great benefit, and he even fed it back towards the prophets. You know, Miles Davis used his stuff. Charlie Parker used his stuff. And John Coltrane was nurtured by Jimmy Heath."

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James Edward Heath was born October 25, 1926, in Philadelphia. His sister Elizabeth played piano; his older brother Percy played violin and bass; and his younger brother Tootie played the drums.

"My father played the clarinet," recalled Jimmy Heath. "He was an auto mechanic for a living, but he played the clarinet on the weekends. He'd get it out of the pawn shop and play in a marching band in Philadelphia. But my mother sang in a church choir. But we were privy to have all these great recordings in our home at that time. We heard all the bands. The big bands were prominent at that time."

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Jimmy Heath developed a big sound on his saxophone. But he was a little man — 5'3". For most of his life, his colleagues on the bandstand called him "Shorty" and "Little Bird" (a reference to saxophonist Charlie Parker, who was nicknamed "Bird").

"My father told me about that. He was a small guy," Heath said. "He says, 'Jimmy, you just got to work harder as a little person. Because the big guys get all of the girls, and all of the gigs. They get everything. But if you pursue your profession, and music, like I do, every day, just like before you came in here, I was practicing. And things like that, you can overcome these myths.'"

Jimmy Heath had to overcome more than myths. He beat a very real heroin habit, and went on to perform and record for more than half a century. He also taught for 20 years at Queens College in New York. Heath said the reason he was able to do all that was simple.

"I'm going to do this until I leave. This is all I love. It's a matter of love. If you love what you do, and you can make a living at it, What's better?"

And Jimmy Heath was one of the best.

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Replies to This Discussion

Heard...and registered around the world as the spheres respond to a missing breath of wind.
I met the man at Blue Note in New York many years ago and a gentler and kinder soul you would never meet.
We talked about the resonance and importance of the vibrating reed and the sonorous brass as well as the ancient drum as messengers of love and peace that will eventually calm then world and keep us safe from the void.
He laughed with great glee when I told him I was an old friend of Jackie McLean and said, "Any friend of Jackie's is a friend of mine.'
Then he was gone out the door.
I walked well into the long Summer New York night pondering that one.
So long Jimmy and thanks for the searching from all of us.
Love,
Gwynne -

Thanks, Nelson.  Ron Tucker came up through Jimmy Heath's bop band along with John Coltrane, Benny Golson and a number of other Philly stalwarts. They rehearsed in the Heath family home and played a lot of charts from Dizzy's book as well as original arrangements. Tucker told me and Fish that the guys used to roll their eyes when Golson, who was a student at Howard U. then, started bringing in his arrangements because they were so bad. But they played them anyway out of love and respect and look what Golson developed.

Heath family home:


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