Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Heath Bars

So I saw the One O'Clock Lab Band with Jimmy Heath last night. I've been going to the annual fall concert, which always features an outstanding guest artist, for a long time, and this one was one of the best in recent memory.

I had seen Heath perform a few times before (once at those free concerts they have outside the Dallas Museum of Art every summer, and once at the UNC-Greeley Jazz Festival), and he's always been great, but this time he was particularly "on"--probably spurred by the energy of the (mostly) young members of the One O'Clock. The arrangements were fresh (I'm wondering if he did any or all of them himself), providing a great backdrop for his solos and a good showcase for the band.

He opened with "Winter Sleeves," which was, as he said afterwards, "based on Autumn Leaves, so I can collect the royal-ties" (this was one thing I hadn't noticed at any previous performances--the guy is really, really funny). Not very tall and rather thin, he cuts a slight figure on stage, and his first solo started out sparsely; but just as his small stature hides the energy within, the opening bars only provided a hint of what was to come; by the end, he was all over the horn. While he crossed paths with John Coltrane many times, he doesn't lean heavily towards the latter's trademark "sheets of sound." In fact, I was asked before the concert who Heath sounded like the most, and I couldn't answer the question; perhaps that's because he sounds the most like himself. His playing really does make you feel like you're hearing the history of jazz up there on stage.

He continued the evening with his well-known composition "Gemini," made famous by Cannonball Adderley (in introducing this tune, he smiled broadly and patted his pocket, hinting that the royalties from that recording were very kind to him) and a ballad inspired by Coleman Hawkins, "The Voice of the Saxophone." A personal highlight was "Gingerbread Boy," a tune made famous by Miles Davis. Not only is it a great tune, but this rendition featured Heath in "friendly fire" with the One O'Clock's two tenors, Clay Pritchard and Jonathan Beckett. (I noted afterwards that Jonathan is probably old enough to be Clay's father, and Heath is definitely old enough to be Jonathan's father, so it really was like "three generations of jazz" going at it up there.) They definitely brought out the best in each other.

The concert closed with a tune Heath wrote in dedication to Dizzy Gillespie, "Without You, No Me." The crowd of course screamed for an encore, and Heath and the band delivered, with an energetic rendering of a tune that Heath said "I didn't write, but I sure wish I did"--Kenny Dorham's "Una Mas." The capacity crowd would have probably liked the concert to go on even longer.

As I said earlier, in addition to being an outstanding performer, Heath was also warm and quite funny. Two of his compositions, "Gemini" and "Gingerbread Boy," were dedicated to his daughter and son respectively. Both of the "kids" are now in their 40's, and Heath noted that his son is now 6'2" and 220 pounds. After he moved back home ("they always come back," he said), he would come home from work ("he does have a job") and come see his dad at the computer. Sometimes he would call Jimmy "Mini-Man" and sometimes "Microchip." And Jimmy noted that "I have to take it....because he's 6'2", 220." Uproarious laughter ensued from the crowd. (This hasn't always happened at these concerts; some of the guest artists have been noticeably uncomfortable in front of the microphone, and one didn't say a single word for the whole concert. It was refreshing to see an engaging personality combined with a masterful performance.)

Needless to say, it was a really enjoyable evening. They've really outdone themselves this time; I'm glad this treasure of jazz got to visit my alma mater, and I hope he makes it back again sometime.

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