NYU Steinhardt News

Jazz legend Jimmy Heath and his son, acclaimed composer, producer, and performer Mtume join Lawrence Ferrara at NYU Skirball Center

Dr. Lawrence Ferrara, Director of Steinhardt Music and Performing Arts Programs, led a spirited and often humorous interview of Jazz legend Jimmy Heath and his son, acclaimed composer, producer, and performer Mtume at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

Jimmy Heath, Mtume and Dr. Ferrara seemed to have as much fun as the audience. The topics of discussion ranged from Jimmy Heath and Mtume having played with the great jazz legends of the last fifty years to hip hop to a discussion of the creative process which includes growth stages which Mtume termed "imitation," "emulation," and "innovation." Both guests spoke about the nature of the music business as a performer, composer and producer. "Innovation" took center stage in the lively discussion when a student questioned the panel on when a young performer is actually ready to begin "innovating." Jimmy Heath's answer: "Whenever you feel ready." The packed theatre was comprised of undergraduate music majors.

A jazz percussionist during his twenties with Miles Davis' band, Mtume moved into urban contemporary and funk in the late '70s and became one of the more successful producers and performers in both styles during the '80s. The son of the great jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath and nephew of the other Heath brothers, in addition to recording and performing with Miles Davis, Mtume is featured on albums by the Heath Brothers, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, and Freddie Hubbard. He recorded as a bandleader for Strata-East before turning to funk in the late '70s. Mtume's band included the sassy, sultry vocalist Tawatha Agee, keyboardist Phil Fields, and bassist Ray Johnson. They had a number one R&B hit with "Juicy Fruit" in 1983 and a number two single in 1984 with "You, Me and He." Another Top Ten hit was "Breathless" in 1986. Mtume also teamed with another ex-jazz musician, Reggie Lucas, who had also been in Davis' '70s band. They produced and/or wrote for such artists as Stephanie Mills, Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway, Phyllis Hyman, Gary Bartz, Sadane, Lou Rawls, Rena Scott, and Eddie Henderson in the late '70s.

The middle of the three Heath Brothers, Jimmy Heath has a distinctive sound on tenor, is a fluid player on soprano and flute, and one of the great big band arranger/composers whose original compositions include "C.T.A." and "Gingerbread Boy." He was originally an altoist, playing with Howard McGhee during 1947-1948 and the Dizzy Gillespie big band (1949-1950). Called "Little Bird" because of the similarity in his playing to Charlie Parker, Heath switched to tenor in the early '50s. In 1959, he replaced John Coltrane in the Miles Davis band, in addition to playing with Kenny Dorham and Gil Evans, and started a string of impressive recordings for Riverside. In the 1960s, Heath frequently teamed up with Milt Jackson and Art Farmer. From 1975-1982, Jimmy Heath teamed up with brothers Percy and Tootie in the Heath Brothers, and since then has remained active as a saxophonist and writer. In addition to his earlier Riverside dates, Jimmy Heath has recorded as a leader for Cobblestone, Muse, Xanadu, Landmark, and Verve and appears on more than 100 albums and has had more than 100 compositions recorded.

Related Link: http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/music/