JAZZ –– The Heath Brothers
The Heath Brothers— bassist Percy, saxophonist Jimmy and drummer Albert “Tootie”—are covered in great detail in this documentary about one of jazz’ most beloved families. The film lovingly intertwines their individual and collective stories, augmented by concert footage from one of their last appearances together prior to Percy’s death. There are also numerous interview excerpts with each of the brothers as well as with other musicians, record label heads and jazz journalists.
Percy, the eldest brother, studied violin prior to entering the military service (he was one of the noted Tuskegee Airmen, though World War II ended before he was shipped overseas) and promptly bought a bass upon mustering out, taking lessons with Ray Brown before joining the Modern Jazz Quartet. Jimmy, who plays several reed instruments and would become a noted composer and arranger, was slowed for a time due to narcotics addiction and time in jail. Albert “Tootie” jokes in an interview segment that his brothers’ influence helped to keep him from going astray and possibly becoming a doctor or lawyer instead.
Many of their stories are enlightening, particularly Percy’s experience with racism while trying to check into a hotel, Jimmy’s description of his experience with drug addiction, which is complemented by Sonny Rollins’ tale of the purpose of a cabaret card: to deny drug-using musicians a living until they could bribe various police officers.
Like all jazz documentaries, it can be a bit frustrating watching performances in piecemeal fashion or seeing interviews with constant cutaways, but the love of the Heath Brothers for their music is apparent within just a few minutes.
Selections: Philadelphia; The Heath Brother; The Brothers' Beginnings; Dizzy Gillespie; Percy Heath; Albert ”Tootie Heath; Taj Mahal/Modern Jazz Quartet; Jimmy Heath; Charlie Parker/Sonny Rollins; Drugs and Jail; Cabaret Card; Orrin Keepnews; Yardbird Suite; Herbie Hancock/Christian McBride; Peter Jennings; Brothers in Jazz; Segregation; Closing Remarks.
Personnel: Jimmy Heath: soprano sax; tenor sax; Percy Heath: bass, cello; Albert Tootie Heath: drums; Jeb Patton: piano.
Production Notes: 70 minutes. Concert footage videotaped March 23, 2004 at Coventry Grove, Kensington, California; includes interview excerpts with The Heath Brothers, various musicians and others.