Each one is awesome alone.
Together, Percy, James and Albert "Tootie" Heath personify an overwhelming aura of creative genius and musical longevity.
They are now the elders of familial jazz musicians and living testaments to the adage "the family that plays together, stays together."
Genuine jazz fans better hold on to their hearts and hats. A triple dose of Heath highlights the 45th annual Monterey Jazz Festival where the three brothers will serve as artists-in-residence and principal performers Sept. 20, 21 and 22.
The reunion of bassist Percy of Modern Jazz Quartet fame, the more famous saxophonist-songwriter Jimmy, and Tootie, the baby boy in everything but his timekeeping skills on skins, is a singular reason to buy an arena or grounds ticket to the event at the Monterey County fairgrounds.
If veterans and newcomers need additional reasons to head to Monterey and the world's oldest continuous jazz festival, consider these: song stylist Nancy Wilson, rhythm-and-blues diva Etta James, "Take Five" pianist Dave Brubeck in a set hosted by Clint Eastwood, trumpeter extraordinaire Roy Hargrove, sizzling saxophonist Joshua Redman, Don Byron's premier of the commissioned "Music for Six Musicians," Randy Weston's sextet with special guest Billy Harper and the musical adventures of more than 500 artists on seven stages.
The Heaths, however, are the men to watch and catch.
They've raised the musical meters, individually and collectively, at festivals and on world stages since the late 1940s and been favored performers at Monterey Jazz Festival on several occasions. In 1973, the three Heaths were among the jazz royal families showcased in MJF's closing concert which also featured Elvin and Thad Jones, Pete and Conte Candoli, Stanley and Tommy Turrentine, Jackie and Roy Kral, Jimmy and Stacy Rowles and, playing in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band, Cecil, Dee Dee and Ron Bridgewater.
Their recording, touring and concert colleagues have included Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie "Bird" Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock, Yusef Lateef, Fats Navarro, Howard McGhee, Slide Hampton, Joe Henderson, Bobby Timmons, John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Kenny Clarke, Connie Kay, Cannonball Adderley, Chet Baker, Clark Terry, Ahmad Jamal, Billy Taylor, Red Garland, Kenny Dorham and Blue Mitchell.
The cradle of their physical beginnings was Wilmington, North Carolina, but their musical talents grew in Philadelphia after their parents' migration to brighter futures in the North.
Percy, at 75, is the oldest and his tall, lean form is most familiar to Modern Jazz Quartet fans. Jimmy, 71, was the first to do groundbreaking work in the 1940s and served as his brothers' first musical mentor. Tootie, the youngest, is 63 and loves to playfully chide his brothers about the fact that he can dance, too.
Making music was encouraged by their father, an amateur clarinetist, and church choir singing mother. Jimmy began playing alto sax at age 14, toured with bandleader Nat Towles for his first professional gig shortly after high school graduation and formed his first group in 1946, astutely adding other then young lions John Coltrane, Benny Golson and Johnny Coles to his bandstand.
Nicknamed "Little Bird" for his similarity to the legendary Charlie Parker, Jimmy switched to tenor to gain distinction from his idol. He left Philly in 1947 for New York and a two-year stint with McGhee and then joined Gillespie's brand-new bebop band, joining the pioneers of a creative style that would influence all of jazz and music in general.
Jimmy's contributions and creativity over the past six decades have made him and elder statesman of jazz and, in his role as a professor at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, inspired additional generations of jazz artists. His honors include the Jazz Foundation of America's Lifetime Achievement, Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum's Living Legends of Jazz awards and, with his brothers, inclusion in the Philadelphia Hall of Fame. He also received Juilliard's first honorary doctor of music degree.
Percy's first instrument was the violin, but he changed to the acoustic bass at age 24 after serving in the Air Force. He played with his brother in McGhee's and Gillespie's bands and backed such luminaries as Parker, Johnson and Davis before joining the newly formed Modern Jazz Quartet in 1951. Tutored by the great Charles Mingus, he mastered the complex charts written and arranged by pianist John Lewis and became a legend in his own right as a pioneering member of one of America's best-ever jazz quartets.
Percy's precise, pristine playing has earned him the admiration of professional colleagues and jazz aficionados worldwide as well as the French government's honor as an officer of arts and letters, an honorary doctorate degree from Berklee College of Music and the Thelonious Monk Institute's Founders Award.
Tootie temporarily played the trombone before quickly changing to the drums and finding his musical niche. He was the last Heath to leave Philly, departing in 1957 to make his debut on Coltrane's first solo recording. He frequently played with his siblings, including the final engagements of MJQ after Connie Kay's death and before John Lewis' death, but earned his own accolades as a hard-bop drummer keeping time for J.J. Johnson, Farmer, Golson, Cedar Walton, Timmons and as house drummer for Riverside Records.
During the 1960s, he played in Europe with expatriates Dexter Gordon and Kenny Drew, then returned to America to join Herbie Hancock's pre-fusion sextet and later Yusef Lateef. He moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s, formed a production company which books, produces and promotes jazz concerts and continues to contribute to cultural and artistic endeavors within his own community as well as the nation and world.
Tickets are available at (925) 275-9255 or www.montereyjazzfestival.org.
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