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NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath Celebrates his 80th Birthday with the Jimmy Heath Big Band on JazzSet

NEA Jazz Master, long-time little saxophone giant, and new octogenarian Jimmy Heath says, "The big band is our symphony orchestra. It's the biggest sound we get in jazz. You can take a small duet or trio or quartet out of a big band, but the reverse is impossible."

Jimmy Heath is a life-long small group player with a passion for big bands. He first wrote for his own in 1947 in Philadelphia. He then played in Dizzy Gillespie's band in 1949 and '50. The other alto player in that big band (yes, alto) was Jimmy's cohort -- also from Philadelphia -- John Coltrane.

Before Jimmy Heath played in Dizzy's big band, so did James Moody. It was a formative experience for both saxophonists. Heath says he still thinks about Dizzy every day; Dizzy was the most accessible musician of his caliber that Jimmy ever met. Moody's the guest soloist on this night at the Blue Note.

In the 1980s, when he became Professor Jimmy Heath at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, he started writing charts again. Heath has amassed approximately 50 arrangements and suites. His former students from Queens populate the finest bands in the world, including this one -- together for an hour on JazzSet.

MUSIC is all by Jimmy Heath

"Big P"
"Like a Son"
"I'm Glad There Is You"
"Basic Birks" for John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie
"Gingerbread Boy"


Jimmy Heath - leader, composer, tenor and soprano saxophones
James Moody - guest soloist on tenor saxophone, flute

Robert LaVell
Andres Boiarsky
Antonio Hart
Mark Ivan Gross
Frank Basile

Tanya Darby
Terell Stafford
Diego Urcola
Frank Greene

Stephen Davis
John Mosca
Jason Jackson
Douglas Purviance

Jeb Patton, Piano
Peter Washington, Bass
Lewis Nash, Drums

Steven Bensusan, Jonathan Cantor and Jack O'Hara at the Blue Note in New York

Music mix by Duke Markos

WBGO's broadcast team is Josh Jackson, Brian McCabe, David Tallacksen, Darren Jones

Executive Producer Thurston Briscoe III
Producer Becca Pulliam


Jimmy Heath's Site

Our technical director is Duke Markos, recording engineer Yujin Cha, producer Becca Pulliam, executive producer Thurston Briscoe III.

Copyright 2007 NPR