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  Tonight At Noon - The Professor Tonight At Noon - by Lawson Primm

The Professor

Note: After a long absence, I am returning to Vintage Vinyl on line with further musings on one of my favorite activities; listening to music and in particular my love of listening to jazz and rhythm and blues. I keep reading the obits from the New York Times daily to check out who in the world of jazz has passed. It seems that the masters both known and obscure, from the 50s and 60s are leaving us at a fast clip And they are not being replaced. To paraphrase veteran jazz producer and hip label honcho Joel Dorn, “you had better catch these cats now when they come to your town, because you might not have the opportunity to do so again”.

In fact just last week we lost the great Los Angeles based tenor man Teddy Edwards and in the last year we lost Ray Brown, Sir Roland Hanna, JJ Johnson, Rosemary Clooney and Mongo Santamaria to name just a few that come to mind. So, over the course of the summer, I plan to introduce you to or reintroduce you to a few living giants among us who have not received the recognition they deserve. Check em out when they hit the clubs or summer festivals. And buy their music. You will be glad you did.

Jimmy Heath began his career in the late 40s, transition years in jazz from swing to bebop. Influenced by Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and John Coltrane, Heath has recorded prolifically for several labels over the last few decades as a leader of his own units (Quartets to Big Bands) and has written several standards including “Gingerbread Boy” and “C.T.A”. He has also recorded since the mid 70s with his siblings, Percy and Albert “Tootie” Heath as the Heath Brothers. He just retired as a professor at The Aaron Copeland School of Music of Queens College after ten years, and is active in The New York scene. And yet, many have not been exposed to his artistry because 77 year old musicians are just not featured on corporate radio these days nor are they visible to even staunch jazz fans because they rarely leave New York.

The best of Heath’s small group recordings for Landmark in the 70s and 80s were recently compiled by Dorn and his son Adam and reissued by the now defunct 32 Jazz as The Professor. Heath is featured on the 8 tracks as a triple threat blowing eloquent and inventive on the tenor, alto and soprano saxophones. His quintets and sextets on the disc include the late great Tommy Flanagan, the brilliant Stanley Cowell and Larry Willis on Piano; Billy Higgins, Al Foster and Akira Tana on drums; Rufus Reid, Stafford Jones and Sam Jones on bass; and Pat Martino and long-time associate Tony Purone on guitar. Heath employs a lot of harmonic imagination throughout and while you clearly hear Parker in his playing, you are also struck by the individuality of his playing; warm, soulful and less crowded. The tunes, a heady mix of originals, (Heath’s masterpiece, the majestic, The Time and the Place) and standards (a languidly sensual reading of Duke’s Sophisticated Lady) showcase the vibrancy, and empathy the players have for one another. This is small group jazz of the highest order.

The Heath Brothers - Percy of MJQ fame, Albert and Jimmy are jazz royalty in every sense of the word. On Jazz Family, their second reunion release on Concord from 1998, the brothers perform mid - tempo chamber jazz that provides ample room for extended solos from each of them. And their excellent supporting cast including Joe Wilder and Earl Gardner on trumpet and flugelhorn, Purone on guitar and Jeb Patton, a former student of Heath’s and Sir Roland Hanna at Queens College on piano provide solid backing. As stated in Gene Seymour’s liner notes, “these guys dive into a state of profound relaxation that’s highly contagious to those in the studio.” The music has a hypnotic effect that is a result of Jimmy’s intricate arrangements and the evocative brass choir employed throughout the recording. Percy Heath who typically performed in a supporting role in The MJQ is front and center here and solos beautifully on Jazz cello on “I’m Lost”. Before The Marsalis family there were the Heath Brothers and on Jazz Family they are a joy to listen to time and again.

It has been said that Jimmy’s students raved about what a mind opening experience it was studying with him. Jimmy Heath gives listeners that same opportunity with these beautiful records.



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