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Jazz & Blues (December 2006)

The Heath Brothers / Brotherly Jazz
By Bill Wahl

The Heath Brothers have long been one of the most famous families in jazz. Their story is well told on this new documentary DVD which also features some fine performances.

Set around a 2004 concert in a California amphitheater, the 70-minute video features a slew of stories told by the brothers, friends, family, and fellow musicians including Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Taj Mahal, Jack DeJohnette, Christian McBride, producer Orrin Keepnews, George Wein, and the late news anchor Peter Jennings.

Some of the topics include bassist Percy Heath’s tenure as a Tuskegee Airman, bass lessons from Ray Brown, and his longstanding work as a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Saxophonist Jimmy speaks of his rebound and blossoming career after serving in prison, and one of the things drummer Tootie speaks of is that if it were not for his older musician brothers he might have become a doctor or lawyer. Boy . . . he’s a great drummer . . . what a bummer that would have been!

You’ll also see some rare vintage footage of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and others. To give an idea of some of the topics covered, some of the chapter titles are “Philadelphia” (their hometown), “The Brothers Beginnings,” “Drugs and Jail,” “Cabaret Card,” “Dizzy Gillespie” and “Segregation.” The 2004 concert footage of the brothers once again reminds us that they are among the classiest musicians in jazz.

This is a well put together DVD produced by longtime concert producer Danny Scher and directed by Jesse Block, who has been video director for the Monterey Jazz Festival since 2003 and worked for BET for its jazz programs before that.

The concert performances here were one of the last times they performed together before Percy’s 2005 death at 81. Jimmy just turned 80 October 25, 2006 and has a full schedule performing and teaching. Albert has been working with an all-percussion ensemble, The Whole Drum Truth, with fellow drummers Ben Riley, Ed Thigpen, and Billy Hart. A fitting tribute to the Heath Brothers, this would be a nice treat for a true acoustic jazz fan.