Jimmy Heath Quartet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Jimmy Heath Quartet

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When Jimmy Heath first came out of Philadelphia in the 1940s, his Charlie Parker-tuned alto playing had earned him the nickname "Little Bird"; by the 1950s, when he recorded with his friend Miles Davis on a justly famous pair of Blue Note albums, he had switched to tenor and begun to attract attention for his solidly constructed jazz compositions. For me, this second image holds sway; in fact, it all but obliterates the first. Listening to Heath's meat-and-potatoes style, with its blunt tone and blocky phrasing, I don't hear even the echoes of Parker's unshackled flights. In all honesty, I don't so much admire Heath's playing as respect it, and especially the tough fibrous thread that connects his sax work, his writing, and his onstage leadership. Heath--the middle sibling in the prominent jazz family that includes drummer Tootie and bassist Percy (of the Modern Jazz Quartet)--long ago established himself as a musical craftsman of high order; his saxophone provides as suitable a window into that craft as his compositions (like "Gingerbread Boy" and "Ellington's Stray Horn") or his full-figured arrangements for his New York big band. It's easily worth a peek; and for those who missed hearing the classic drummer Ed Thigpen lead a group last weekend, the decision to add Thigpen to Heath's group this weekend should provide an extra incentive. Friday through Sunday, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Mephisto.

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