Families of musicians are a jazz tradition. The Jones brothers—Hank, Thad and Elvin—were all notable players in the bebop era with drummer Elvin also taking an important role in progressive and jazz/rock arenas. A generation younger, Jeff and John Clayton are leaders in the West Coast straight ahead jazz community. And the New Orleans family of Marsalis brothers and their father Ellis are currently among the most celebrated musicians in the country.
Then there are the Heath Brothers—bassist Percy (a native son who maintained his connection to Wilmington, and a member of Wilmington 's Walk of Fame); saxophonist Jimmy; and drummer "Tootie"—whose artistry has touched the swing, bebop, modern, and educational areas of jazz. The three are the subject of a new DVD, Brotherly Jazz: The Heath Brothers.
Produced by long-time concert promoter Danny Scher and directed by Jesse Block, whose work has ranged from BET programming to Todd Rundgren concert films and Monterey Jazz Festival videos, Brotherly Jazz is a delightful tribute. Its focal point is a 2004 concert of the three brothers playing in Scher's backyard amphitheater, Coventry Garden, in Kensington, Calif. Woven in are interviews with the brothers; master musicians Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, and Taj Mahal; and promoters, record company executives, and jazz historians. Giving depth to the story of the Heaths are childhood snapshots, early footage of jazz bands, and still shots spanning the brothers' careers.
The interviews in the video add wonderful stories, both historical and hysterical, about the Heaths. The late news anchor Peter Jennings tells of taking a friend for a bass lesson from Percy. Sonny Rollins, who also became a junkie, puts the pitfalls of the era's drug scene in perspective, and young bassist Christian McBride relates a time when Percy came to see his fusion band perform. After the set, the legendary bassist went back stage and told McBride, "I sure was glad when you landed that space ship."
As a jazz documentary, Brotherly Jazz is one of the best. It doesn't gloss over the tough life that players often led before the Civil Rights Era. It brings out the humility and commitment necessary to play this deeply rooted American music. And without sounding boastful or arrogant the video details the many contributions this family of exceptional musicians has made to the jazz world.
Brotherly Jazz: The Heath Brothers is available at brotherlyjazz.com for $25.