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Percy Heath: A Love Song

Russ Musto By

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As remarkable as it may seem that this Love Song is the debut release as a leader by 80 year-old elder statesman bassman Percy Heath, it was certainly well worth the wait. Heath, who has been the quintessential supportive sideman on more than 300 recordings, most notably as a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet, steps into the spotlight here, ably assisted by his regular rhythm section mates from the Heath Brothers band, pianist Jeb Patton and drummer, brother Albert “Tootie” Heath and aided by the very capable swinging bassist Peter Washington, who unselfishly fills the position usually manned by the leader, allowing him to step out front as bass soloist and cellist.

The date also highlights Heath’s unheralded skill as a composer, beginning with his solo cello rendition of the title track, a pretty, lyrical melody with words we’ll have to wait to hear. The bassist’s “Watergate Blues,” a Heath Brothers feature since the early days of the fall of Nixon, is heard here for the first time with the added luxury of bass accompaniment, allowing him to swing the funky ditty even harder than usual on cello.

“Django,” a dedication to the famous gypsy guitarist by MJQ pianist John Lewis, was long a highlight of that group’s concerts, a showcase for Heath’s big beautiful bass sound. Here he once again demonstrates his incredible facility on the instrument, in both arco and pizzicato sections on the familiar classic. The date’s other main soloist, pianist Jeb Patton, demonstrates the depth of his maturity on “Century Rag,” a modern exposition of the classic form composed by his mentor, the late Sir Roland Hanna.

“No More Weary Blues” is another composition by the leader, previously recorded by the Heath Brothers. The composer states his happy melody on cello, before switching to bass for some exciting interaction with Washington, further instigated by Tootie’s New Orleans-tinged drumming. “Suite for Pop” (not to be confused with Thad Jones’ “Suite for Pops”) is the CD’s centerpiece, an ambitious four part opus by the bassist, dedicated to the memory of his father, recorded here in its entirety for the first time.

The piece organically moves through its sections beginning as a remorseful dirge and ending as a joyous swinging celebration of life. The date finishes with another dedication, Patton’s moving “Hanna’s Mood,” in memory of his teacher. Heath, who has been lauded for 60 years for his exemplary good-humored, tasteful performances as a sideman in the service of swing, successfully brings those qualities to the fore on this album, showing that great jazz can be both sophisticated and serious fun.


Track Listing: A Love Song, Watergate Blues, Django, Century Rag, No More Weary Blues, Suite for Pop, Hanna's Mood

Personnel: Percy Heath--cello and bass; Jeb Patton--piano; Peter Washington--bass; Albert "Tootie" Heath-drums

Title: A Love Song | Year Released: 2004

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