In his new memoir, I Walked with Giants, legendary jazzman Jimmy Heath riffs on his notable career with an all-star cast of music greats.
IF YOU WERE TO JUDGE MUSICIAN Jimmy Heaths new memoir by its title I Walked with Giants you might get the impression he was a David among the Goliaths of jazz. True, the 83-year-old composer and tenor saxophonist doesnt have nearly the name recognition of his longtime friend John Coltrane or his former bandleader Miles Davis. But with more than 130 compositions, 125 album credits, and 65 years of playing to his name, theres no doubt Heath is a jazz giant not merely by association but in his own right.
Heath is as consummate a collaborator on the page as he is on the stage. Cowritten by Joseph McLaren, I Walked with Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath (Temple University Press, $35) combines Heaths own account of his life and career with recollections hes gathered from nearly 40 fellow jazz luminaries. Together, they recall Heaths highs and lows: his emergence on the Philadelphia jazz scene in the 1940s; his four-year prison term for drug charges in the late 1950s; his partnership with his brothers, Albert Tootie and Percy, both highly successful jazzmen; and his tenure as the first director of jazz studies at Queens College.
When I first started this book 25 years ago, I didnt have much to say except I was on a good path, Heath says. I had stumbled, but Id stood up again and was heading for good things. Those good things have come with age. Indeed, in his late 70s, Heath was not only named an NEA Jazz Master the highest honor in jazz but he was also the first jazz musician to be granted an honorary doctorate from the Juilliard School.
Several of the books contributors Heaths mentor, Dizzy Gillespie; his first influence, Benny Carter; and his brother Percy, among others have since passed on, making their remembrances of Heath and their times together all the more poignant. Im touched by what they say about me, for Id say the same things about them, Heath says.
Lucky for jazz fans, Heath is still performing. Last August, he and Tootie released the highly acclaimed album Endurance, their first Heath Brothers CD since Percys death. He spent his 83rd birthday jamming with Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson at a Kennedy Center ceremony honoring his longtime friend Bill Cosby (who contributed the foreword to Heaths memoir). And he continues to mentor young musicians following his footsteps into jazz. I try to instill in my students the sincerity of being an individual, he says. Dont be a copycat. Find your own voice in music.
We have even more new music for your listening pleasure. By Jessica Jones
The Rainwater LP (Rainwater Recordings, $15)
The new album from Citizen Cope (aka Clarence Greenwood) is the first one hes releasing on his independent label, which means he was free to experiment with his sound any way he pleased and thats a good thing. We swoon over Copes ragged, reggae-tinged vocals and dig his infusion of folk, rock, blues, and hip-hop.
The Ladder (Self-released, $10)
We cringe to admit that we first heard Andrew Belles music on an episode of The Real World: Cancun. But while our TV preferences may be questionable, were sure youll agree, after listening to Belles new release, that our affinity for the 24-year-old singer-songwriter is in the best taste. Belle sings about love and love lost on his first full-length album, which sounds like a cross between Mat Kearney, David Gray, and the Fray.
In Good Heath
Not familiar with Jimmy Heaths music? Here are some of the artists own picks for an essential Heath playlist. K.B.R.
Album: Triple Threat, 1962
Gemini was written for my daughter, Roslyn. Geminis are subject to change day to day; I tried to indicate that in the music.
Song: Voice of the Saxophone
Album: Little Man, Big Band, 1992
Voice of the Saxophone is a dedication to Coleman Hawkins. When the saxophone is played by a good performer, the sound is like a voice singing.
Album: Little Man, Big Band, 1992
C.T.A. is a moderately fast swing. Musicians like the structure, the way its written, because its challenging to play.