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Just heard about Percy Heath...RIP

Discussion in 'Bassists [DB]' started by Aaron Saunders, Apr 28, 2005.

  1. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Some of my earliest exposure to jazz must have been MJQ on TV...when I was a little kid, I had a standing order with my Mom to wake me early anytime there were any jazz guests on the "Today" show (I have very cool parents). Bear in mind, I come from a little town in Northern Wisconsin, so live jazz was nonexistent. So, the show often featured guests like Ella, George Shearing, Erroll Garner, Ruby Braff and George Barnes, and so on. This was before VCRs, but I actually used to make audio recordings from the TV speaker on our old Wallensack reel to reel recorder! I guess there was no stopping me at that point.

    And of course, MJQ. I remember that precise, clocklike swing for which they were famous. And of course, always the tuxedos! No wonder I wound up playing jazz for a living, seeing and hearing guys like Percy Heath for my early inspiration.
  2. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    I got the chance to see him a couple of years back at the Vanguard, and that was such a trip, watching him do his thing on "Out of nowhere" on his Kay CelloBass...like nothing I've ever seen.

    BTW, check out "Lee Konitz: Live at Storyville". Not only is it a great album to have anyway, but Percy takes one of the baddest solos I've heard on "If I had you".
  3. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    I had the good fortune of getting to hang with Percy a few times and I wanted to relate an anecdote. It was mentioned before that he was big into fishing-well, big is an understatement! Percy was actually a famous fisherman in these parts and it had nothing to do with being a big time bassist. He was just that good at it and I remember reading about his fishing exploits regularly in Nick Karas' outdoor column in the Newsday paper. Percy was big into fluke fishing and if memory serves me correctly his wife June held a woman's world record for the fish.
    I always have dreaded meeting famous people because putting on airs in even the slightest raises my hackles but Percy was the complete opposite. He would make you feel like a complete equal and be very interested in what made you tick. Being a lifelong fisherman myself we would always talk about what was biting. When I first met Percy upon finding out that I was also a fisherman he said- "Yeah, I'm known as the 3F man." He pauses, then drawls, "Fishin', fiddlin', and that other thang."
    I'll always remember him as the 3F man. Guy had a pretty damn good run.
  4. A contemporary of Mr. Heath:

    Jimmy Woode II, a bassist with a decades-long career that included stints with jazz greats Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, died last Saturday of a heart attack. He was 78.

    A native of Philadelphia, Woode was house bassist at George Wein's Storyville club in Boston. He honed his skills with the likes of Ellington, Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Earl "Fatha" Hines.

    In 1955, a two-week gig as a temporary replacement in Ellington's band turned into a more than five-year engagement in which he helped drive the band's rhythm section.

    After leaving Ellington's band in 1960, he emigrated to Europe and spent much of the rest of his life in Sweden, Germany, Austria, and until 2001, Switzerland.

    He was a founding member of the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band.

    He continued to tour well into his later years and performed with a quintet in 1998 that included his daughter, singer Shawnn Monteiro.
  5. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Ah, that's right...I forgot that he was the bassist with Clarke-Boland.
  6. Over the last few days they had a Percy memorial broadcast on WKCR-Fm. I had recently read an interview with Steve Swallow where he said something to the effect that he felt Percy had the perfect attack and release of a note, perfect note length to propel and maintain the time. In listening to so many different recordings, I must agree. A beautiful groove....

  7. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Good point... a lot of Percy's crisp sound comes from where the notes end.

    What a great bassist he was! Now I'm going to go check out my old Percy recordings.
  8. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    I checked out that NPR interview and that observation of Swallow's seems to fit with Percy's rather humble view of his playing -- challenged by some MJQ charts, liking to play Monk because that music required him to play roots and fundamental harmony, etc.

    In my own playing -- both in jazz and bluegrass -- for many months now I've stripped back concerns about the notes I'm playing and I've really placed a lot of my practice focus on time and intonation. It's so hard to do well and yet looking after those basics looks after so much beyond them.

    Guys like that are often called "journeyman" bassists. I think that's wrong. Percy Heath was a master.
  9. Ike Harris

    Ike Harris

    May 16, 2001
    Nashville TN
    I've been out of the country on tour for 3 weeks and just seeing this. A huge loss to the bass community and lovers of jazz. I was fortunate to see the MJQ about 14 years ago for the last time(wearing white tuxes) and I'm realizing that Percy was the last living member of that legendary group. About a week or so after seeing them(OK hearing), I was walking into a hotel lobby with the piano player I was gigging with in Pasadena, there stood John Lewis and Percy and just about dropped my teeth. They were playing the same venue a night earlier than we were and checking out. They were both very gracious and friendly and we all had a nice little chat. One of those moments you don't forget.
  10. pat.p


    Nov 20, 2004
    Poland, Poznań
    And I am sure, that now he can play and talk with all of them, somewhere, over the rainbow...

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