Jimmy Heath, born on October 25, 1926, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was a renowned American jazz saxophonist, composer, and bandleader. Hailing from a musically talented family, Heath made significant contributions to the world of jazz, earning the nickname “Little Bird” due to his stylistic similarities to the legendary Charlie “Bird” Parker.
Heath’s journey into the world of music began at an early age, learning the alto saxophone and later switching to the tenor saxophone in the mid-1940s. He began his professional career in the late 1940s, playing with various big bands, including the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. Heath’s talent as a composer and arranger became evident during this time, as he started writing music for Gillespie and other prominent jazz musicians.
In the early 1950s, Heath formed his own group, which included several future jazz greats such as John Coltrane, Benny Golson, and Charlie Parker. Despite facing addiction challenges, including a prison sentence in the mid-1950s, Heath continued to contribute to the jazz scene, writing music and arranging for various ensembles.
In the 1960s, Heath, along with his brothers, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath, formed the Heath Brothers, a highly successful jazz group that showcased their collective talents. The group remained active for several decades, producing numerous critically acclaimed albums and garnering praise for their musical synergy and original compositions.
Throughout his career, Heath collaborated with a who’s who of jazz greats, including Miles Davis, Art Blakey, and Clark Terry. He also made a significant impact as an educator, teaching at Queens College and conducting workshops and masterclasses around the world. In 2003, Heath was recognized with a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, an honor celebrating his lifetime achievements and contributions to jazz.
Jimmy Heath passed away on January 19, 2020, but his influence and legacy in the world of jazz remain strong. With a career spanning over seven decades, Heath left an indelible mark on jazz history as a saxophonist, composer, and bandleader. His innovative approach to playing, composing, and teaching has inspired countless musicians and continues to shape the future of jazz.
Page last updated 11/06/2023.