Jazz album review: a Big Band tribute to the late Jimmy Heath

By Michael Ullman

The students of Temple University in this beautiful big band tribute to the late saxophonist / composer Jimmy Heath, sound professional – tight and well rehearsed. They are joined by stars Joey DeFrancesco and Christian McBride.

Terell Stafford and the Temple University Jazz Band: Without You, No Me, with Christian McBride and Joey DeFrancesco. (BCM & D documents)

When trumpeter Terell Stafford was hired by Temple University as director of jazz and instrument studies, he sought advice from the wisest man he knew: Jimmy Heath. Not surprising. Big band leader when he was only 20, adept and sometimes underrated saxophonist, as well as famous composer / arranger, Heath, who died on January 19, 2020 at the age of 93, was treated with a reverence understandable by his many students. Saxophonist Antonio Hart said of Jimmy, “He embodies what I think Christ is talking about in the Bible, how you’re supposed to let your life shine, how you’re supposed to treat people the way you want them to treat you. Composition of heather Without you, no Me, Hart says every time he plays the song he gets chills.

So it was no surprise that Stafford turned to his former boss for advice, or that he was eager to record a tribute to his mentor soon after his passing. Of Heath he said: “He gave me such great advice: ‘Just teach yourself. Teach who you are. Determine what you are doing, how you are doing it, and teach it. And that will be what the students will need. ‘ Of course, Covid stepped in, and it was a year late. Nonetheless, this recording was ultimately made by musicians who were all in the same room and performed with filters and covers on the bells of their horns. These students look professional – tight and well rehearsed. They do two lesser-known Heath compositions (they received less attention than “Gingerbread Boy”, that is), both from Heath’s Grammy-nominated album in 1992. Little Man Big Band. They are typical of his tunes: difficult to play, but easy to listen to. “Without You, No Me” begins with a rhythmic brass band and then, after a whirlwind of saxophones followed by a pause, a repeated motif takes place. The tightly muted trumpet section plays the melody until it becomes a bridge picked up, roughly, by the saxophones. It is a well-done piece, filled with a variety of rhythms and textures that the excellent soloists among the music students of Temple treat beautifully. “Voice of the Saxophone” begins with the band supporting a tenor saxophone. Soon everyone except the rhythm section gives up and the tenor saxophone is left to play the beautiful tune of the air. This is a special piece in Heath’s own recorded legacy – and it is done justice here.

The Temple University Jazz Band in action, taking top honors this month at the inaugural Jack Rudin Jazz Championship at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Photo: BCM & D Records

There’s more to this big band record. “The Wise Old Owl” was written by bassist Christian McBride in honor of the late basketball coach John Chaney. It starts with a funny bird pattern of jerky notes that continue behind a rather sad sounding melody, a descending pattern that reminded this listener Eeyore as much as an owl. But then McBride takes flight during his solo, demonstrating his ability to assert an effervescent swing despite the occasional complexity of the rhythms of a piece. McBride is one of the guests of honor, and he’s also featured in Louis Armstrong’s old staple “I Can’t Give You More Than Love.”. ” Here it is mainly devoted to McBride’s exuberant bass playing. Organist Joey DeFrancesco is featured in his composition, a tense and upbeat tune titled “In That Order”. Everyone plays in a catchy final, Ellington’s “Perdido”.


Michael ullman studied classical clarinet and was educated at Harvard, the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, from which he earned a doctorate in English. Author or co-author of two books on jazz, he wrote on jazz and classical music for the Atlantic Monthly, New Republic, High fidelity, Stereophile, Boston phoenix, Boston Globe, and other places. His articles on Dickens, Joyce, Kipling and others have appeared in academic journals. For more than 20 years, he has written a bimonthly jazz column for Fanfare Magazine, for which he also criticizes classical music. At Tufts University, he mainly teaches modernist writers in the English department and the history of jazz and blues in the music department. He does not play the piano well.


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