Jimmy atuando no "Kongsberg Jazz Festival"
In his new memoir, "I Walked with Giants", legendary jazzman Jimmy Heath riffs on his notable career with an all-star cast of music greats. If you were to judge musician, Jimmy Heath’s new memoir by its title — I Walked with Giants — you might get the impression he was a David among the Goliaths of jazz. True, the 83-year-old composer and tenor saxophonist doesn’t have nearly the name recognition of his longtime friend John Coltrane or his former bandleader Miles Davis. But with more than 130 compositions, 125 album credits, and 65 years of playing to his name, there’s no doubt Heath is a jazz giant not merely by association but in his own right.Heath is as consummate a collaborator on the page as he is on the stage.
Cowritten by Joseph McLaren, I Walked with Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath (Temple University Press, $35) combines Heath’s own account of his life and career with recollections he’s gathered from nearly 40 fellow jazz luminaries. Together, they recall Heath’s highs and lows: his emergence on the Philadelphia jazz scene in the 1940s; his four-year prison term for drug charges in the late 1950s; his partnership with his brothers, Albert “Tootie” and Percy, both highly successful jazzmen; and his tenure as the first director of jazz studies at Queens College.“When I first started this book 25 years ago, I didn’t have much to say except I was on a good path,” Heath says. “I had stumbled, but I’d stood up again and was heading for good things. Those good things have come with age.”
Indeed, in his late 70s, Heath was not only named an NEA Jazz Master — the highest honor in jazz — but he was also the first jazz musician to be granted an honorary doctorate from the Juilliard School.Several of the book’s contributors — Heath’s mentor, Dizzy Gillespie; his “first influence,” Benny Carter; and his brother Percy, among others — have since passed on, making their remembrances of Heath and their times together all the more poignant. “I’m touched by what they say about me, for I’d say the same things about them,” Heath says.
Lucky for jazz fans, Heath is still performing. Last August, he and Tootie released the highly acclaimed album Endurance, their first Heath Brothers CD since Percy’s death. He spent his 83rd birthday jamming with Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson at a Kennedy Center ceremony honoring his longtime friend Bill Cosby (who contributed the foreword to Heath’s memoir). And he continues to mentor young musicians following his footsteps into jazz. “I try to instill in my students the sincerity of being an individual,” he says. “Don’t be a copycat. Find your own voice in music.”