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Jimmy Heath: The legendary 'Little Bird' graces Taichung

Jimmy Heath: The legendary 'Little Bird' graces Taichung



Jimmy Heath: The legendary 'Little Bird' graces Taichung

By Douglas Habecker
Translated by Naomi Lai

One of the marks of a truly successful, global musical event is its ability to attract the stand-out legends who have helped nurture that genre to where it is today. In the years since it was launched, such has been the case with the Taichung Jazz Festival, and such will be the case again this year, when Jimmy Heath comes to town.

On the evening of Sunday, Oct. 17, about a week shy of his 84th birthday, this amazing saxophonist, composer and arranger will grace the festival's main stage to perform some of the music that has won him accolades from the likes of the late jazz giant Dizzy Gillespie, who commented, "All I can say is, if you know Jimmy Heath, you know Bop." Or Miles Davis, who described Heath as a "very hip dude....one of the thoroughbreds." These comments, among many others, testify to the fact that Heath has shared the limelight with a pantheon of jazz greats spanning the better part of the past century. Besides Gillespie and Davis, this list has included Howard McGhee, Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Art Farmer and Gil Evans.

Jimmy's performing career began to take off in the late 1940s, initially as an alto sax player. However, not long afterwards, influenced by Charlie "Bird" Parker, he switched to tenor sax and earned himself the nickname "Little Bird". Milestones over the next few decades included composing most of the Art Pepper/Chet Baker album "Playboys" in 1956; replacing John Coltrane on Miles Davis's group in 1959; in 1975 forming the Heath Brothers with his equally accomplished siblings, bassist Percy and drummer Albert, plus pianist Stanley Cowell; joining the faculty at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College of the City University of New York; and winning the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters Award in 2003. He is also father of R&B songwriter/musician James Mtume.

If all this wasn't enough, his over 125 original compositions have been recorded by likes of Gillespie, Davis, Ray Charles, Ahmad Jamal, James Moody and others, with many of these songs becoming jazz standards. His extended-work compositions have included seven suites and two string quartets, and he has also performed on about 100 records, including 12 albums as leader and seven with The Heath Brothers.

For jazz aficionados and novices alike, the opportunity to listen to the music of this very living part of American jazz heritage should not be missed when he honors Taichung and Taiwan with his presence.

The 2010 Taichung Jazz Festival will take place from Saturday, October 16 to Sunday, October 24 at three stages along the JingGuo Boulevard parkway and on Civic Square (People's Park). For more Chinese and English information about performances, artists and other events, go to the official festival website at www.taichungjazzfestival2010.com.tw and/or read the October edition of Compass Magazine.

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