Jazz saxophone legend Jimmy Heath dead at 93

Jimmy Heath, a saxophonist, composer and bandleader who played with some of the biggest names in jazz, died Sunday morning in Loganville, Georgia. He was 93.

Heath’s death was confirmed by his wife, Mona Heath, WBGO in Chicago reported. Heath’s grandson also confirmed the musician’s death to NPR.

Heath’s career spanned seven decades, and he played his music along with jazz greats Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane, NPR reported. Known as a saxophonist, Heath also composed and arranged music.

Davis called Heath “one of the thoroughbreds” of jazz, WBGO reported.

James Edward Heath was born Oct. 25, 1926, in Philadelphia, the radio station reported. His father, Percy Heath Sr., played clarinet in a marching band. His mother, Arlethia, sang in the choir of her Baptist church.

“My father played the clarinet,” Jimmy Heath told NPR in 2013. “He was an auto mechanic for a living, but he played the clarinet on the weekends. He’d get it out of the pawnshop and play in a marching band in Philadelphia. But my mother sang in a church choir. But we were privy to have all these great recordings in our home at that time. We heard all the bands. The big bands were prominent at that time.”

In 1945 and 1946, Heath played in the Nat Towles Orchestra and toured the Midwest and South, WBGO reported

Heath formed the Jimmy Heath Orchestra in 1946, which featured Coltrane on second alto.

Davis hired Heath on tenor and recorded “C.T.A.” (for Connie Theresa Ang, Heath’s girlfriend) on the 1953 album, “Miles Davis Volume 1," WBGO reported.

Phil Schaap, the curator of jazz at the Lincoln Center in New York, told NPR that Heath’s biggest contribution to music was bringing the 1940s bebop revolution to future generations.

“Moses is dead. The tablets are still here,” Schaap told NPR. “Well, Jimmy Heath read the commandments of jazz, and he got the tablets from the great prophets. And he used it his way to great benefit, and he even fed it back towards the prophets. You know, Miles Davis used his stuff. Charlie Parker used his stuff. And John Coltrane was nurtured by Jimmy Heath.”

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