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Heath, Jimmy, 1976 November 2

 Item — Multiple Containers

Scope and Contents

Composer and saxophonist Jimmy Heath lectured on 11/2/1976 (2015-0002/RR18). James Edward Heath (October 25, 1926 – January 19, 2020), nicknamed Little Bird, was an American jazz saxophonist, composer, arranger, and big band leader. He was the brother of bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert Heath. At the time of his 1976 lecture, he had composed over 60 compositions and described himself as a "musician's musician" because he was more interested in writing and performing rather than fame or fortune. Heath, unlike other lecturers, warned students about the isolating and alienating nature traveling musicians encounter as well as the dangers of drug use among entertainers. Heath only spoke for about 15 minutes and left plenty of time for student questions. He appeared to relish having students pose questions to him.


  • 1976 November 2

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Links to digitized content are included in the finding aid.

Biographical / Historical

Heath was born in Philadelphia on October 25, 1926. Heath's sister was a pianist, while his brothers were bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert Heath. During World War II, Heath was rejected for the draft for being below the minimum weight.

Heath originally played alto saxophone. He earned the nickname "Little Bird" after his work for Howard McGhee and Dizzy Gillespie in the late 1940s, during which his playing displayed influences from Charlie Parker (Parker's nickname was "Bird"). He then switched to tenor saxophone.

From late 1945 through most of 1946, he performed with the Nat Towles band. In 1946, he formed his own band, which was a fixture on the Philadelphia jazz scene until 1949. The band included John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Specs Wright, Cal Massey, Johnny Coles, Ray Bryant, and Nelson Boyd. Charlie Parker and Max Roach sat in on one occasion. The band performed at venues such as the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Although Heath recalls that the band recorded a few demos on acetate, it never released any recordings, and its arrangements were lost at a Chicago train station. The band dissolved in 1949 so that Heath could join Dizzy Gillespie's band.

Heath was arrested and convicted twice for the sale of heroin; he was an acknowledged addict. The first time, in the spring of 1954, he was sent to the Federal Medical Center, Lexington, Kentucky, where many musicians and celebrities (and other people) were given treatment. After release, In early 1955, still an addict, he was arrested again, and served most of a six-year prison sentence in Lewisburg. He went cold turkey, and was able to spend a lot of his time engaged in music. While in prison he actually composed most of the Chet Baker and Art Pepper album Playboys (1956). He was released early, on May 21, 1959, and remained clean for the rest of his life; conditions of probation made it difficult, but he managed to start rebuilding his career. He briefly joined Miles Davis's group in 1959, replacing Coltrane, and also worked with Kenny Dorham and Gil Evans. Heath recorded extensively as leader and sideman. During the 1960s, he frequently worked with Milt Jackson and Art Farmer. In 1975, he and his brothers formed the Heath Brothers, also featuring pianist Stanley Cowell. Jimmy Heath composed For Minors Only, Picture of Heath, Bruh' Slim, and CTA and recorded them on his 1975 album Picture of Heath.

In the 1980s, Heath joined the faculty of the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, City University of New York. With the rank of Professor, he led the creation of the Jazz Program at Queens College and attracted prominent musicians such as Donald Byrd to the campus. He also served on the Board of the Louis Armstrong Archives on campus, and the restoration and management of the Louis and Lucille Armstrong Residence in Corona, Queens, near his own home. In addition to teaching at Queens College for more than 20 years, he also taught at Jazzmobile.

He received a Grammy nomination for box-set liner notes of The Heavyweight Champion, John Coltrane, the Complete Atlantic Recordings (Rhino, 1995), and Grammy nominations for Little Man Big Band (Verve, 1994) and Live at the Public Theatre with The Heath Brothers (Columbia, 1980). Heath was a recipient of the 2003 NEA Jazz Masters Award. In 2004, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Human Letters. During his career, Heath performed on more than 100 albums, including seven with the Heath Brothers and 12 as a leader. He wrote more than 125 compositions, many of which have become jazz standards and have been recorded by other artists, including Art Farmer, Cannonball Adderley, Clark Terry, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, James Moody, Milt Jackson, Ahmad Jamal, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, J. J. Johnson, and Dexter Gordon. Heath also composed extended works – seven suites and two string quartets – and premiered his first symphonic work, Three Ears, in 1988 at Queens College, with Maurice Peress conducting. He notably played in a jazz concert at the White House, when President Bill Clinton borrowed his saxophone for one number.

Heath died on January 19, 2020 in Loganville, Georgia, at the age of 93.

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1 Reels (Magnetic tape audio recording ) : RR 18 1 reel, Side A-1:04:32, Side B-0:10:03; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester.

Language of Materials

From the Series: English

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

University of Connecticut Library
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Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US