Weston at Carnegie, Apollo’s ‘Africa Now,’ Heath Swings

3/19/2016, 12:09 p.m.
March 19, the dean of African classical jazz piano Randy Weston will perform with his long-standing band African Rhythms in ...
Randy Weston

Tickets are $25 to $50. Call the box office at 212-531-5305 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

The tenor saxophonist, composer and arranger Jimmy Heath is another elder statesman of jazz who is enjoying an extended celebration of his 90th birthday, which was on Oct. 25, like Roy Haynes, who celebrated turning 91 last week with back-to-back engagements at the Blue Note.

“I love playing with this big band they are great musicians. Celebrating another birthday is a great thing but for me it’s minute to minute,” said Heath.

He celebrated in a big way by leading his big band. Ironically, Heath is such an incredible musician in a small group setting, he isn’t given enough credit as a big band leader although he has recorded a host of albums in the big band configuration that have received acclaimed accolades.

Crowded onto the tiny, storied Blue Note stage, Heath had assembled an energetic band of young musicians such as drummer Evan Sherman, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix and established cats such as baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and pianist Michael Weiss.

Together they grooved like a gigantic locomotive train with only one intention: to swing from bop to now and back again. The musicians brought a bag of enthusiastic intensity to Heath’s now standards such as “Togetherness” where trumpeter Hendrix, saxophonist James Burton, drummer Evan Sherman and the crew jumped out smoking leaving nothing to the imagination but another form of hipness.

He wrote “Sassy Samba” for his friend and legendary singer Sarah Vaughan. It was swinging with a Latin tinge and soft flutes pulling out a taste of salsa soul. Heath took the saxophone lead and main solos on Jimmy Dorsey’s “I’m Glad There Is You,” his smooth riffs and harmonic flow made you realize this was a genius at work.

His “Without You No Me” was something he had dedicated to Dizzy Gillespie, saying, “He taught me so much. He was a grand master.” His “Gemini,” recorded by Cannonball Adderley and others, was a hard swinging number bringing back memories of big band swingers such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Billy Eckstein.

One thing was for sure, and that was the audience was overjoyed that in this lifetime, we have memorable live moments to listen and swing with Heath. “Turn Up the Heath” is his most recent big band recording.

The Heath brothers are synonymous with great jazz, and although Percy passed away in 2005, Jimmy and Tootie continue to play together. Jimmy Heath’s autobiography, “I Walked With Giants,” written with Joseph McLaren (Temple University Press, 2010), is well worth reading to understand the full magnitude of his contributions to jazz.