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James Edward Heath, a man with an infectious smile, a Queens resident since moving from Philly in the mid 1960s, is a jazz composer/arranger, teacher, bandleader and multi-reed legend, who has also raised a family with his life-partner and wife, Mona.
And after 74 years on this marble, Oct. 20 marked the date that Jimmy "The Little Bird" Heath (his fans affectionate comparison to that other hard bop jazz icon, the late great Charlie "Bird" Parker) continued his living jazz legacy, by still getting out the word that Big Band arrangements and hot new jazz suites have to come with vision and creativity.
Heath retired just two years ago as the jazz chairman of the Aaron Copeland School of Music at Queens College, and his good friend Bill Cosby helped him celebrate that achievement at Lincoln Center. It was a capacity-crowd, star-studded event.
On Friday evening, only five days shy of his actual birthday, Heath and his special Birthday Big Band of world famous and lesser known, younger performers lit up Lincoln Center with his original compositions and arrangements, some of which go back to his earlier creative years when he gigged with the likes of Colmen Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, and John Coltrane.
Danny Banks, several years Jimmy's senior, and the elder statesmen in the band brought some beautiful depth to Heath's creations with sophisticated baritone sax
The other jazz masters, trombonists Benny Powell and Earl McIntyre, Big Paul West on double bass, Charlie Davis and Jimmy Cozier on tenor sax, Virgil Jones and Earl Gardner on trumpet, all helped the younger cadre deliver the bold, bright and electrifying sounds for the evening.
Sharing the stage and adding additional depth to the ensemble's big sound, were Dave Gibson and Avi Lebo on trombone, Roger Ingram and Diego Urcola on trumpet, Bobby Lavela on tenor sax, Todd Bayshore on alto sax, and Steve Johns at the drums, with the eighty-eights well-handled by Jeb Patton.
Opening for the big boys was the Queens All-Star High School Band, originating from Francis Lewis High School and directed by Lloyd Haber.
One of the students Heath whom Heath taught when he chaired the Jazz department at Queens College, paid a beautiful tribute to the jazzman, playing one of Heath's original tunes, "All Members."
Heath, always the educator, indicated to the audience, "You Can See," which he had done on tour with Caribbean piano wizard Monte Alexander in 1986.
The evening only got better as each succeeding tune, most of which were Heath originals or arrangements for other jazz legends, drew the thirsty audience into a musical web of Swing and Bop. "
Heath's "Voice of The Saxophone," one of the selections from his vital work, the "Afro American Suite Of Evolution," was a huge crowd pleaser. Heath indicated that the tune was dedicated to Coleman Hawkins.
Heath's young pianist, Jeb Patton made it crystal clear why he was one of the posse. This young man has chops!
At the conclusion of the first set, Jimmy was presented with a large Birthday cake on stage, as all of his colleagues, fans and the High School All Stars sang Happy Birthday. Dr. Barry Harris, the multi-award winning jazz pianist, made it to the stage to hug and congratulate the honoree.
Flushing Town Hall continues its Jazz Live! series on Nov. 3, with The
Tito Puente Salute, lead by Dave Valentine and Oscar Hernandez as they celebrate the life of the king of Mambo. Call 718-463-7700.
Reach free-lance writer Norm Harris by e-mail at email@example.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.