14 MAY 12 ANNE FARNSWORTH
Jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath is one of the last living legends to reign in the Bop and Hard Bop era. An arranger and composer as well, he's been wildly prolific since he began recording in 1948, both as a sideman and leader. Original Jazz Classics' compilation, Nice People, is a great introduction to not only Heath's music, but the era itself, with tracks featuring a who's who of mid-century jazz.
A member of one of jazz's royal families, Heath grew up with brothers Percy, a bassist, and drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath. Albert is the drummer on most of the tracks and Percy shares the bass chair with Paul Chambers.
Heath started his career playing alto sax, but after earning the nickname "Little Bird" due to his stylistic similarity to Charlie "Bird" Parker, he switched to the tenor. Nice People covers his most prolific period, from 1959-1964 when he was recording for Riverside.
The collection opens with the title cut, a bop gem written to the changes of "Indiana," like Miles Davis' "Donna Lee." A 3-horn arrangement with Nat Adderley on cornet, it opens with a hard swinging intro by under-appreciated pianist Wynton Kelly and just picks up more steam as it bounces along.
"The Picture Of Heath" is from 1960's Really Big, his big band release. Not exactly a big band but you'd never know it was only a tentet from the sound of the all-star horns that join Heath -- Adderley, Clark Terry, Pat Patrick on bari, trombonist Tom McIntosh and Dick Berg on French horn. Calling them tight doesn't begin to do justice to this dream team horn section.
And the pianists on this compilation? Wow. Along with Kelly, there's Cedar Walton, Harold Mabern, Tommy Flanagan and a young guy you may have heard of, Herbie Hancock. Trumpeters Donald Byrd and Freddie Hubbard are also featured, as is guitarist Kenny Burrell. This is the pantheon of the bop era, and it just doesn't get any bigger or better.