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Jimmy Heath: Love Letter

Chris May By

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Jimmy Heath: Love Letter
Love Letter is the final album to be made by saxophonist Jimmy Heath, who passed in January 2020 aged 93. It was completeted just a month earlier. The title is well chosen: the album is a love letter to jazz, a love letter to ballads, and a love letter to Heath's surviving family members, friends and audience. Soulful and luminous, it is everything one could hope for in the last will and testament of a jazz master.

Heath performed on more than a hundred albums during his career and worked with practically every jazz giant of his generation (and more than a few from succeeding generations). These included Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Kenny Clarke, J.J. Johnson, Howard McGhee, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Cannonball Adderley and Philly Joe Jones. And that was just between 1947 and 1951. There were six more decades to go.

On Love Letter, Heath plays tenor on seven tracks and soprano on one. He is accompanied by a multi- generational lineup comprising pianist Kenny Barron, guitarist Russell Malone, vibraphonist Monte Croft, bassist David Wong and drummer Lewis Nash. Gregory Porter and Cecile McLorin Salvant add vocals to Gordon Parks' "Don't Misunderstand" and Mal Waldron's "Left Alone" respectively. Wynton Marsalis is featured on Kenny Dorham's "La Mesha."

Heath was a gifted composer and three of his pieces are included on Love Letter: "Fashion Or Passion," from a 2004 Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Commission, "Inside Your Heart," from a 2010 project with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, and "Ballad From Upper Neighbor's Suite," from 1995.

As an album, Love Letter ranks among Heath's best. As a swansong, it is unbeatable.

Track Listing

Ballad From Upper Neighbor’s Suite; Left Alone; Inside Your Heart; Fashion Or Passion; Con Alma; Don’t Misunderstand; La Mesha; Don’t Explain.

Personnel

Jimmy Heath: saxophone, tenor; Kenny Barron: piano; Russell Malone: guitar, electric; Monte Croft: vibraphone; David Wong: bass; Lewis Nash: drums.

Gregory Porter: vocals (6); Cécile McLorin Salvant: vocals (8); Wynton Marsalis: trumpet (8).

Album information

Title: Love Letter | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Verve Music Group

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