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Contra Costa Times (February 20, 2007)

Jazz DVD a Lesson in Americana
By Chris Treadway

The musical career of the Heath Brothers spans the history of jazz after World War II. Yet there was only one time that the three brothers – bassist Percy, saxophonist/composer/arranger Jimmy' and drummer Albert, aka “Tootie” – were captured on film while performing.

That appearance also turned out to be their final performance together, as Percy Heath died a few months later.

That final concert happened in Kensington, and the performance and the story of the Heath Brothers has been captured for all to see on a new DVD documentary titled Brotherly Jazz that will be screened at the Kensington Library on February 26.

"The story of the three brothers from Philadelphia is about much more than jazz," said Danny Scher, who hosted the 2004 concert at Coventry Grove, the amphitheater behind his Kensington home.

“This is not just music, this is Americana,” said Scher, who produced the DVD. “There’s a lot of history to this.”

Scher originally had planned to capture just the performance itself on film. The event was a benefit for the Jazzschool in Berkeley.

“I called the Hewlett Foundation and they gave seed money to film the concert,” he said. “I sensed it was kind of a historic event, and I was originally going to have it for historical purposes. These guys played with every jazz great from the last half-century to the present. I felt given their age I should do this.”

That plan changed because of a panel discussion that preceded the show. During the panel, the brothers “opened up about stories they’d never talked about before,” Scher said.

That included accounts of jail and discrimination, memories of some of the greatest names in jazz, and the revelation that Percy Heath had been a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the historic group of African-American pilots who flew for the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II.

Scher and director Jesse Block decided to expand on the production by telling the brothers’ story more fully and by talking to their legendary music contemporaries.

“We realized this was a good story,” Scher said. “We went around the country and talked to other jazz musicians.”

Those interviewed for the documentary include Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Taj Mahal, Jack DeJohnette, Christian McBride, Marian McPartland, music impresario George Wein, producer Orrin Keepnews' and ABC newsman Peter Jennings, who was a close friend of Percy Heath.

Jennings died not long after the interview.

“The film is dedicated to Percy Heath and Peter Jennings, because they aren’t with us anymore,” Scher said.

The finished product has been well received at film festivals around the country and abroad and has garnered favorable reviews.