Iconic jazz saxophonist and composer Jimmy Heath has died of natural causes at the age of 93.
Heath died on January 19 at his home in Loganville, Georgia. His death was confirmed to the New York Times by his grandson Fa Mtume, who was at the musician’s side at his death along with Heath’s wife Mona Brown and other family members.
The saxophonist shot to fame in the 1940s thanks to his virtuosic alto sax style, picking up the nickname Little Bird for sharing sonic traits with Charlie “Bird” Parker and his diminutive 5’3” height.
“The alto just appealed to me,” Heath told Jazz Wax in a 2009 interview. “I began playing in high school, in the marching band, for football. I played the fight songs of all the colleges I couldn’t attend economically or racially, like ‘On Wisconsin!’ and ‘Notre Dame Victory March’ and so on. I also had a couple of private teachers and learned from mentors and the band director down in North Carolina.”
In one of Heath’s early big bands, he performed alongside John Coltrane, Ray Bryant and Benny Golson, amongst others. He also went on to play in groups with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, JJ Johnson and more. Later in his career, Heath recruited his brothers, Percy and Tootie, to form the Heath Brothers, a fusion band that performed a blend of modern rock and jazz compositions. Together, they released over 11 albums, including 1998’s Jazz Family, their last record as a trio.
In 2003, Heath was awarded the title of Jazz Master by the National Endowment of the Arts.
RIP, Jimmy Heath. Listen to a compilation of his best compositions below: