Jimmy Heath: Love Letter

Thomas Fletcher BY

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Jimmy Heath: Love Letter
Often nicknamed "Little Bird," Jimmy Heath began on the alto saxophone acquiring this informal title by dedicating his studies to Charlie Parker and his wee stature. Although not a familiar name to many outside of the devoted jazz community, Heath would go on to pursue a remarkable 76-year career sadly passing away in January, 2020. A fabled musician to many tenor players, Heath presents us with his final testament, a collection of formative ballads.

Enhancing the already prolific status that Love Letter features, guest appearances are warmly welcomed that include trumpeter Wynton Marsalis with vocalists Gregory Porter and Cecile McLorin Salvant. The robust rhythm section that accompany Heath are: NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron on piano, Russell Malone on guitar, vibraphone veteran Monte Croft, bassist David Wong and longstanding jazz drummer Lewis Nash.

Whilst serving his four-and-a-half-year internment, Heath would manage the prison big band and also write for them. It was only the day after his discharge in 1959 when he met his lover, Mona Brown, a marriage which would span sixty years. Due to his parole restrictions, Heath was restricted to staying in Philadelphia which precluded him from embarking on an opportunity to succeed John Coltrane in Miles Davis' group. After being prompted by Cannonball Adderley and Philly Joe Jones, he signed with Riverside Records where he served as an arranger and releasing notable tracks such as "Gemini" and "Gingerbread Boy."

The opener, written by Heath more than twenty-five years ago, is named "Ballad from Upper Neighbors Suite" and makes use of brilliant bassist David Wong with an arco introduction. "Left Alone" is written by Mal Waldron and words originally by Billie Holiday, although she never recorded it. Salvant gives an intrinsic display of quality showing true justice to Holliday's lyricism. "Inside Your Heart" demonstrates Heath's idiomatic ability on soprano saxophone while "La Mesha" is proudly driven by Wynton Marsalis in honour of Kenny Dorham who wrote the tune.

"Don't Misunderstand" falls to Gregory Porter with "Con Alma" following, a composition by Dizzy Gillespie who was both a mentor and friend to Heath. The penultimate track on Love Letter is the third tune composed by Heath, "Passion or Fashion." It was originally composed to guide Lyndon B Johnson's civil rights address, "The American Promise." The final track named "Don't Explain" was a suggestion from Barron, Heath allowed it on the album commenting that he only permitted tunes that he knew the lyrics to.

Jimmy Heath brings forward his final chapter where we experience melodic artistry. In 2001, Benny Golson said Heath "moved through chords, not scientifically, but melodically. He plays ideas. It's like a conversation, but musical, not linguistic. He has a story to tell, and it's right in tune with those chords."

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.


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

Additional Instrumentation

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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