The Heath Brothers—Percy on bass, Jimmy on horn and Tootie
on drums—first became a unit
in 1975, when Percy was on hiatus from the Modern Jazz Quartet (Percy,
sadly, passed away
two years ago). Both Jimmy and Percy established their reputations
early on in Dizzy Gillespie’s
sextet, while youngest brother Tootie left a broad footprint on jazz
history as drummer on John
Coltrane’s fi rst album. Jimmy, fondly dubbed “Little
Bird” early in his career for a soloing style
reminiscent of Charlie Parker, doubles on soprano and fl ute, and
is a fi ne composer and
arranger whose originals include “C.T.A.” and “Gingerbread
Boy.” The Heath Brothers are
known to jazz connoisseurs as players of taste and style, and there
is no mistaking the intuitive
communication that underscores their improvisational fl ow on stage.
Jimmy and Tootie are also
beloved members of the Stanford Jazz Workshop faculty.
Photo: Drummer Syd Hislam, at 93 one of SJW's most
beloved patrons, catches up with fellow drummer Tootie Heath.
In order to get to know him better, we asked
Tootie to answer a few questions. Here’s
what he had to say:
What is the first recording you
remember hearing as a
I don’t really remember the recordings, but
vividly remember hearing in our home the music of
Mahalia Jackson and John Phillp Sousa.
Who is your favorite jazz musician under the age of 30?
Jeb Patton—The Heath Bros. gifted young pianist.
What job would you
have if you weren’t a jazz musician?
What’s the strangest experience you’ve
ever had on the bandstand?
That’s easy. One very cold winter night in the early
at the famed NYC Jazz nightclub, “The Bottom Line,” a
from the audience one night decided to stand up, completely disrobe,
then run through the
club and out the front entrance and into the minus 20 degree night.
It was during the period
when “streaking” was oddly all the rage.
What’s the most exotic place you’ve
traveled to as a musician?
What’s the last book you’ve
Freedom & Grace."
If you could play
with any other musician, living or dead (with whom you have not
played), who would it be and why?
Count Basie, just once. His music
exemplifed the epitome of
technical prowess coupled with discipline, innovation, style and
a big, big beat!
What’s your favorite tune?
“If you mean
composition, it would probably be Monty Alexander’s
favorite thing about being a Stanford Jazz Workshop faculty member?
would absolutely be the opportunity to witness young people arrive
to the program with an
interest or curiosity about the Jazz genre, and then watch them develop
a love and passion
favorite jazz venue?
The Village Vanguard.
Who is your greatest musical influence?
If you were stranded on a desert island
and could only have three recordings with you, what would they be?
1. Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain.”
2. Monty Alexander’s “Gone Yard.”
3. My own recording “The Offering.”
How much do you practice each week?
“About 12 hours per week.”
What hobbies do you have?
My wife and I live in a neighborhood
north of Los Angeles
where it is not uncommon to see all manner of wildlife including
deer, fox, coyote, raccoon
and many others, including a great variety birds. I’m not sure
if it qualifi es as a hobby, but
I’ve become an avid watcher of wildlife.
If you could be any other type of artist
other than a jazz musician, what would you be and
Probably an “assemblage” artist like my
wife, Beverly. She has the extraordinary
ability of transforming objects, often discarded, into timeless works
When did you become
interested in music, and what circumstances or events led to your
becoming a professional musician?
Being raised in a musical
family, and in a musical city
(Philadelphia), it was an easy call. As I mentioned, my father was
a clarinetist, my mother
sang, my oldest brother Percy played bass and my middle brother Jimmy
If you were to describe your
music as a color, what color would it be and why?
Perhaps green. To me, growing up in Philly, the color always
represented the vibrancy of
spring after a long white winter.