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Jimmy Heath & The Jazz Members Big Band

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JIMMY HEATH & the JAZZ MEMBERS BIG BAND

When you consider his history, saxophonist and composer Jimmy Heath certainly belongs in Chicago during Jazz Showcase's Charlie Parker Month. After all, as a diminutive young man in the 40s, leading a big band in his native Philadelphia, Heath played alto with enough power and finesse to earn the local nickname "Little Bird"--and this was in a musical milieu that included the young John Coltrane, Heath's contemporary and friend. By the time he appeared on the famous Blue Note albums that Miles Davis led in 1953, Heath's main instrument was the tenor, but by the 60s it was his manuscript pencil, and his excellent compositions--including "CTA" and "Gingerbread Boy," both recorded by Miles--began to overshadow his meat-and-potatoes improvising. Nonetheless, it took him nearly 45 years to establish another regular big band to play his lively arrangements of those compositions. Heath's New York-based group caused quite a stir in the early 90s, both in club dates and on the band's sole recording (Little Man Big Band, on Verve); judging from Monday afternoon's first rehearsal, this music will have much the same impact on Chicago this weekend. Heath writes infectious melodies, and his driving, bop-based arrangements use chunky rhythms and thick textures; most often, the writing frames his own tenor solos, which, like the arrangements, brim with admirable craftsmanship and contain the occasional highly effective surprise. None of this would work without 16 musicians capable of turning those arrangements into top-drawer music on short notice. In Chicago, the Jazz Members Big Band provides the talent--with such ringers as trumpeters Arthur Hoyle and Brad Goode, saxophonists Mike Smith and Mwata Bowden, and drummer Dana Hoyle added for this date. (The trumpet section sounds especially strong: when they nailed one climactic chord at rehearsal, Heath turned to the four people behind him and lit the darkened club with his huge grin.) Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 670-2473.

NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Jimmy Heath, by Marc PoKempner.

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