Pure Jazz Magazine covers the music called Jazz from a very unique perspective not seen in most publications.
Live Gig Review The Heath Brothers By: Playthell George Benjamin Al “Tootie” Heath Jimmy Heath New York–While I have been culturally and spiritually enriched by every happening that I was fortunate to witness in Rose Hall, the space with the fabulous jazz acoustics that is the jewel in the crown of Jazz at Lincoln Center, as a former long time resident of Philadelphia it remained a special pleasure for me to hear the unique concert “City of Brotherly Love Jazz.” It was a Saturday night fish fry Phillistyle. While the beer and pretzels featured at the bar may have seemed a quaint oddity to some, to me it was a touch of home, another sign of the extent to which JALC is willing to go to present the music with authentic flavor. They could not have chosen a better exemplar of the Philly sound than the Page 48 -Pure Jazz Magazine Buster Williams Heath Brothers, around whom an allstar Philly bred ensemble was built; they are the Philadelphia equivalent of the magnificent Jones boys of Detroit: Thad, Hank, and Elvin. With Buster Williams on bass, Pat Martino on guitar, Duane Eubanks on trumpet, and Joey Defrancesco on the Hammond organ and acoustic piano, joining Jimmy and Al “Tootie” Heath on Saxophones and drums, the original hard bop Sound of Philadelphia was well represented in New York City – also known amongst hip black Philadelphians as “The Fruit” – just a few moons after the Ides of March. In order to understand the recent public outbursts by the great Philadelphia born and bred Comedian, educator, businessman, philanthropist and jazz aficionado Bill Cosby, excoriating the manners and morals of the black lower class – which is really a lament for the decline of a halcyon age in black Philadelphia culture and community – one has only to observe the standard of elegance, dignity, eloquence, and artistic virtuosity exemplified by the Heath Brothers. When the nobility of these elders, who, like Cosby himself, are cultural ambassadors from that splendid time and place, a time which Brent Staples has correctly labeled “the era of industrial prosperity,” are pitted against the banalities, vulgarities and nihilism that mar the personalities and cultural products of post-industrial Philadelphia, where gangsta rap was born,
it is easy to see why it makes him wanna holler! As a counterstatement to the b- boy “street” or gang banger image prized by the rappers, the Heath Brothers are paragons of the jazz musician as creative intellectual and fashion plate. Cosby and the Heath brothers all came of age at a time when standards were set in the Afro- American community by the “Talented Tenth,” an educated and forward looking class whose existence was first noted by Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1899 sociological classic, The Philadelphia Negro, and as their mission was to “uplift the race” they set the standards high. Those high standards and reverence for excellence were all too obvious in the quality of the music performed under the Heath brother’s leadership, as all the musicians soared to exceptional levels of virtuosity, and the spirit of the music reflected the optimism of the times, which also inspired Afro-Americans in spite of pervasive racism and discrimination. Created in a city with a booming economy based upon commerce and manufacturing, with good public schools, a well educated middle class and a large population of working class home owners, it was an environment w h i c h promoted the conventional wisdom that progress was the inevitable result of hard work and study. Hence this Pat Martino music is a sound portrait of the mid-century American zeitgeist; it was even popularly referred to as “Progressive Jazz.” The concert began with an original composition by Jimmy Heath titled CTA, composed in 1953 and originally recorded by the great Miles Davis. Although the piece was written over a half century ago, it sounded like it could have been conceived yesterday because like all fine art it is timeless. The piece featured Joey Defrancesco on the Hammond organ and transported me back to the Philadelphia “beer gardens” and cabarets of the late 1950’s and sixties, where one could always find beautiful barmaids, splendidly attired charming company, and great organ trios or quartets. It was a traditional Philly Jazz sound, the original sound of Philadelphia that was popular when Rhythm and Blues writer/producers Gamble and Huff – who made millions with a R&B style popularly known as “The Sound of Philadelphia” on the wildly popular Philadelphia International record label in the 1970’s – were still in knee pants! It was readily apparent after a chorus or two that Defrancesco had absorbed, as if by osmosis, the quintessentially Philadelphia sounds of organist like the incomparable Jimmy Smith – undisputed master of the Hammond organ – Don Patterson and “The Mighty Burner,” Charlie Earland. The tune was a hard swinging blues and announced from Jump Street that blues and swing were indispensable elements of this band’s musical project. Guitarist Pat Martino was swinging hard on his axe, leveling a thicket of rhythmic and harmonic obstacles as he soared over the changes with beautiful flowing statements. Defrancesco gave a great exhibition of right hand dexterity, as he played riffs and soloed without chording with his left hand or pumping bass lines with the foot pedals. This was a generous gesture on his part, as he refrained from cluttering up the rhythm by crowding spaces better left to Pat Martino’s Guitar and Buster William’s exquisite double bass grooves. These jazz men were master musicians who knew how to swing hard without getting in each other’s way. In classic bop style, which demanded virtuosity from every instrumentalist, everybody had the opportunity to solo. Although they must have missed the versatile rhythms of their ever so swinging brother Percy Heath – a past master of the double bass “bull fiddle” who played with big bands, hard boppers and the cerebral Modern Jazz Quartet – the big warm lyrical sound Buster Williams coaxes from the instrument was majestic and left nothing to be desired. In fact, Buster is an original and commanding voice in a grand tradition Dwayne Eubanks of Philadelphia bassists that include Jimmi Merritt, Reggie W o r k m a n , Spanky De Brest, Jimmy Garrison, Stanley Clarke, Christian McBride et al. As both the lynchpin that hold the groove together and the spark plug that fires the soloists up, Tootie Heath is a seasoned virtuoso on the drum set and gave a master class on polyrhythmic swing. More concerned with swinging the band than soloing, he plays just loud enough; a consummate accompanist who never overpowers the other instrumentalist, nor even competes with them like many contemporary drummers who approach his level of virtuosity. His consummate artistry brings to mind another great drummer, “Philly Joe” Jones, who powered the marvelous Miles Davis Septet featuring Trane and Cannonball Adderley. There were times during his most creative periods when the great John Coltrane had all Philadelphians in his quartet: pianist McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman or Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Rashid Ali on drums. The dominant voice in this ensemble, the first among equals, is the little big man Percy Heath, a composer, bandleader and saxophonist extraordinaire whom romped through the tune like a juke joint blues shouter. His is a special gift that enables a man of small statute to produce one of the largest most opulent sounds ever heard on the tenor saxophone – an instrument who’s melodic and harmonic possibilities have been explored by an amazing array of gifted artists. Some of the greatest of these – John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, Benny Golson, Odean Pope, Sonny Fortune, Gregory Herbert, et al – came from Philadelphia. But whenever I began raving about any of these dudes in Philadelphia during the early Sixties, somebody would pull my coat and say “Hey man, you just wait until Jimmy Heath gets back out here on the street. He’s the cat!” Sometimes they would say that even when I was praising John the prophet, which sounded like heresy, because to my Pure Jazz Magazine - Page49