Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Heath, "Tootie" (Albert)

Albert “Tootie” Heath's clean, self-assured interactions and impeccable swing feel made him a first-call drummer among straight-ahead and free-leaning bandleaders in the fifties and sixties. His classic approach can be heard on more than 400 hard-bop and post-bop recordings with, among others, John Coltrane, J.J. Johnson, Wes Montgomery and Yusef Lateef.

Heath was born on May 31st, 1935, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Delivered into the most musical of families, Albert is the younger brother of bassist Percy Heath and reedman Jimmy Heath. Initially introduced to music by his mother, a church choir member, and father, a clarinetist.

Albert was seriously introduced to jazz through his brother Jimmy’s local work with John Coltrane, Benny Golson and Charlie Parker. The emergence of the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1952, of which Percy was a founding member, further inspired Albert, then 17 years old, to concentrate on music. Wanting to follow in the footsteps of his brothers, Heath started to play trombone at age 12 before switching over to the drums in his mid-teens. He started to gig in the Philadelphia area in the mid-1950s.

Heath moved to New York in 1957, and soon thereafter recorded with fellow Philadelphian John Coltrane. Appearing on the Coltrane, First Trane, and Lush Life sessions, Heath’s sensitive yet assertive drumming earned him immediate positive attention, under Coltrane’s early leadership.

Following his work with Coltrane, Heath became one of New York's most in-demand drummers, and was frequently called on by hard bop musicians who desired a classic, classy straight-ahead sound.

Heath’s next major project was with the debut album of another Philadelphian, Nina Simone’s 1957 Little Girl Blue. Tracks such as “I Loves You, Porgy” and Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery in 1960, The Bobby Timmons Trio in Person, Recorded Live at the Village Vanguard from 1961, which includes “Dat Dere,” Much In Common with Ray Brown and Milt Jackson in 1962, Sure Thing with Blue Mitchell in 1962, Live at the Village Gate with Milt Jackson in 1963, On the Trail with Jimmy Heath in 1964, At Beethoven Hall with George Russell in 1965 and Trompeta Toccata with Kenny Dorham in 1965.

In 1965, Heath relocated to Denmark, where he lived until late 1968. He worked as the house drummer at the Montmartre Jazzhus club in Copenhagen, often accompanying American musicians who passed through Europe on tour. Of the many musicians he performed with at this time was Sonny Rollins, who recorded a live date at the club in September of 1968. He also recorded with other American jazz expatriates, including Ben Webster and Dexter Gordon. Heath appears on Webster’s Plays Ballads and Plays Duke Ellington from 1967, and Meets Don Byas in the Black Forest from 1968. As for Dexter Gordon, the two musicians collaborated on Body and Soul, Both Sides of Midnight, Take the “A” Train and Live at the Montmartre Jazzhus, all from 1967.

Upon his return to the United States, Heath began performing with Herbie Hancock’s jazz-funk sextet, along with Joe Henderson, Johnny Coles, Garnett Brown, and Buster Williams. The group can be heard on the album Fat Albert Rotunda, which features “Tell Me a Bedtime Story,” and The Prisoner, both from 1969, the latter of which augments the sextet with three additional musicians.

In the very late 60s and early 1970s, Heath worked again with Dexter Gordon on 1969’s More Power and Tower of Power, 1972’s Ca’Purange and 1974’s Apartment, and also appeared/recorded with Cedar Walton, Kenny Drew and Jimmy Heath.

In 1969, Heath released his first album as a leader, Kawaida. Included in the briefly assembled octet were trumpeter Don Cherry and pianist Herbie Hancock.

His primary, long-standing gig throughout the early to mid-1970s was with multi-reedman Yusef Lateef, with whom he appeared on 1971’s Part of the Search, which also featured pianist Kenny Barron, and 1972’s Gentle Giant, an R&B-leaning effort.

In the mid 1970s, Heath briefly returned to Europe and then relocated back to the United States permanently. During this time, , he appeared with European pianist Tete Montoliu, avant-garde reedman Anthony Braxton, and bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. He also released his second and final recording as a leader, Kwanza, in 1973. It featured Jimmy and Percy Heath in addition to Curtis Fuller, Ted Dunbar and Kenny Barron.

Also in the mid to late 1970s, Heath officially united with his brothers Percy and Jimmy to launch the Heath Brothers Band. The trio performed frequently and recorded Passin’ Thru in 1978 and Brothers and Others in 1983. The Heath Brothers band released a handful of records in between these two releases, but these other records only featured Jimmy and Percy Heath.

Heath’s recorded output decreased in the 1980s, yet he remained active enough to participate in a number of strong sessions. Some of these include a reunion with the Jazztet for 1983’s Moment to Moment and Move to the Groove, a 1983 Pat Metheny record backed by the Heath Brothers; Warne Marsh’s Back Home from 1986, Joe Pass’s One for My Baby in 1986, and Art Farmer and Frank Morgan’s Central Avenue Reunion in 1989.

In the 1990s, Heath performed as part of the Riverside Reunion Band, a collective of veteran hard-boppers including Jimmy Heath, Nat Adderley, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Bob Cranshaw, Ron Carter and Buddy Montgomery. The group recorded twice, on 1993’s Mostly Monk and 1994’s Hi-Fly.

Upon the death of longtime Modern Jazz Quartet drummer and major Heath influence Connie Kay in 1994, Heath took over the drum chair for the group’s final years.

The Heath Brothers reunited in 1997 and released two records for the Concord Jazz label – 1997’s As We Were Saying and 1998’s Jazz Family.

Since 1986, Heath has been a faculty member at the Stanford University Jazz Workshop. He has also been an artist-in-residence at UCLA, UC Berkeley, and Pepperdine, among others. In 2004, Heath formed “The Whole Drum Truth – Jazz Legends in Historical Percussion Performance.” In the program, combinations of veteran jazz drummers including Heath, Ben Riley, Billy Hart, Ed Thigpen, Louis Hayes, Jackie Williams, Charli Persip, Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, and/or Leroy Williams perform classic jazz tunes entirely on multiple drum-kits.

In recent years, critical and artistic praise has increased for Albert, Percy and Jimmy as one of the great family legacies in jazz history. Brotherly Jazz, a documentary film about the Heath Brothers directed by Jesse Block, includes archival materials, live performance clips, and interviews with countless jazz musicians on their influential careers. The last yet certainly not the least of the three brothers, Albert “Tootie” Heath’s discography serves as a master-class in tasteful, modern, interactive hard-bop drumming.

Select Discography:

As a Leader:

Kawaida (1969), Kwanza (1973)

As a Sideman:

Coltrane (John Coltrane, 1957), Lush Life (John Coltrane, 1957), J.J. in Person (J.J. Johnson, 1957), Little Giant (Johnny Griffin, 1959), Cannonball Takes Charge (Cannonball Adderley, 1959), Complete Argo/Mercury Jazztet Recordings (Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet, 1960), Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (Wes Montgomery, 1960), Bobby Timmons Trio In Person: Recorded Live at the Village Vanguard (Bobby Timmons, 1961), Sure Thing (Blue Mitchell, 1962), Live at the Village Gate (Milt Jackson, 1963), Body and Soul (Dexter Gordon, 1967), The Montmartre Collection (Dexter Gordon, 1967), Plays Duke Ellington (Ben Webster, 1968), Fat Albert Rotunda (Herbie Hancock, 1969), Part of the Search (Yusef Lateef, 1971), Gentle Giant (Yusef Lateef, 1972), Whats New in the Tradition (Anthony Braxton, 1974), Tootie’s Tempo (Tete Montoliu, 1976), Move to the Groove (Pat Metheny and the Heath Brothers, 1983), Back Home (Warne Marsh, 1986), Central Avenue Reunion (Art Farmer, 1989), Mostly Monk (Riverside Reunion Band, 1993), Hi-Fly (Riverside Reunion Band, 1994), As We Were Saying (Heath Brothers, 1997), Jazz Family (Heath Brothers, 1998).



Contributor: Eric Novod