Triple Threat: JIMMY HEATH
Sextet: Jimmy Heath (ts) Freddie Hubbard (tp) Julius Watkins (frh) Cedar Walton (p) Percy Heath (b) Albert Heath (drs)
New York City: January 4, 1962
Quartet(*): Jimmy Heath and same piano, bass and drums
New York City; January 17, 1962
Gemini (6:09) (Jimmy Heath)
Bruh’ Slim (5:16) (Jimmy Heath)
Goodbye (6:59) (Gordon Jenkins)
Dew and Mud (5:01) (Jimmy Heath)
Make Someone Happy (3:41) * (Comden – Green – Styne)
The More I See You (4:18) * (Gordon – Warren)
Prospecting (5:40) (Jimmy Heath)
Jimmy Heath enjoys working with sextet format. It gives him the opportunity, as an arranger, to enhance his work as a composer with added coloration, without detracting from the freedom for solo improvisation that the small group affords.
On his first Riverside album, “The Thumper”, Heath led a sextet in which the front line was completed by cornet and trombone. “The Quota” substituted trumpet and French horn to stand alongside his tenor saxophone. That total set-up worked so well that it is repeated here in “Triple Threat”. In fact, the personnel is exactly the same. (to further illustrate his solo powers, there are two tracks here on which Jimmy takes off on standard tunes with just rhythm-section support.)
Two of the returnees are Jimmy’s brothers, Percy and Albert. This noted Philadelphia family doesn’t stay together, but they sure can play together. Percy, of course, has been the mainstay bassist with the Modern Jazz Quartet since its inception in the early 1950s. Al has lent his vital drum pulse to such groups as J. J. Johnson’s and the Jaztzet and, most recently, the Bobby Timmons Trio. Al has been on all of Jimmy’s Riverside recordings, including the tentet of “Really Big”; Percy missed only the earliest of his brother’s LPs.
Pianist Cedar Walton might almost be an honorary member of the Heath family by now, having worked with Al in the Johnson and Jazztet rhythm sections and having aided Jimmy on all the albums but “The Thumper”. Walton featured a clear, crisp attack and logical, lyrical, uncluttered thinking in a completely unaffected style. Freddie Hubbard, the brilliant young trumpeter, was with Cedar and Al in the Johnson group for a time, and then with Walton as one of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. His horn is literally alive in the manner of an electric wire, crackling and whip-like.
As you can readily see, although this is not a sextet that works together regularly, it is far from a pick-up group casually convened in a studio to make a record. It was more than that when “The Quota” was taped and here, with that LP already under its collective belt, is even more of a unit. This surely helps in building the full sound that Jimmy extracts from only (as it is sometimes hard to remember when listening) a three-horn ensemble. Another aid in this direction and a distinctive feature of the group is that it includes the French horn of Julius Watkins. One of the real modern-jazz veterans, he has been prominently featured with the bands of Pete Rugolo. Oscar Pettiford, Johnny Richards and Quincy Jones, and with the Jazz Modes, a highly-regarded quintet he co-led with tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse in the mid-1950s. His facility and personal sound have always stamped his as the leader on his instrument.
When Jimmy Heath played alto, he was called “Little Bird”, and with good reason. But even though friends who knew him in his earliest playing days sometimes still use that nickname, he certainly does not sound like Charlie Parker today. On tenor he has developed his own personality and basic, direct style. True, he has listened to Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins, and some of the externals of John Coltrane (a fellow-Philadelphian who once worked in a ten-piece band led by Jimmy) are evident too – but there is no copying per se. All the elements in his style are integrated into a muscular, yet never harsh, whole.
Heath writes melodically attractive themes whose very phrasing, it seems, should swing even without a rhythm section. Bruh’ Slim is a catchy melody, richly voiced. Another up-tempo number is Prospecting. Watkins, who doesn’t solo on those two, is spotlighted on the stately, minor-keyed, unconventionally-metered Gemini, not only taking a chorus but also carrying the melody. (This tune, written by Jimmy only a few weeks before this date, was snapped up on first hearing by his friend Cannonball Adderley, who proceeded to make it the feature item of his early-1962 album. “The Cannonball Adderley Sextet in New York” – Riverside RLP 404; Stereo 9404.)
Dew and Mud is a Heath blues whose odd title is explained by Jimmy as acknowledgeing the fact that it is based on a phrase by blues singer Muddy Waters that Miles Dewey Davis likes to play. The only standard played by the full group is Benny Goodman’s old sign-off theme, Gordon Jenkins’ Goodbye. Heath’s tenor is the main voice here, investing the melody with the proper combination of sadness and beauty while the two brass blend behind him.
The quartet tracks swing all the way and really focus the solo spotlight on Jimmy. Make Someone Happy; from the Phil silvers Broadway musical “Do-Re-Mi”, is a happy song, full of hope, and the saxophone dances through it in a befitting manner. That good old standard, The More I See You, is not done at its usual ballad tempo, and there are some crisp exchanges between Jimmy and brother Al on this one.
The triple threat in football must pass, punt and run on a high level. Musically, Jimmy Heath approximates this by his composing, arranging and playing, all of which are ably and amply demonstrated here. After a performance of this caliber, it wouldn’t surprise me if his next album were titled “All-American.”
Previous JIMMY HEATH albums on Riverside include –
The Thumper (RLP 314; Stereo 1160)
Really Big! – Jimmy Heath Orchestra (RLP 333; Stereo 1188)
The Quota (RLP 372; Stereo 9372)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded and mastered at Plaza Sound Studios (Mastered by Neal Ceppos.)
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, New York