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11/8/10

Jimmy Heath 1972 - interview and music



Notwithstanding the sync problem—which persists, but is being worked on—I decided to post the remainder of the Jazz Set show featuring the Jimmy Heath All-stars. It begins with a brief interview in which Jimmy expresses his aversion to playing jazz in taverns—the TV set replicated such a place—and with the term itself. Reflecting a prevalent attitude of the times (1960s and '70s)  he preferred to call it "Afro-American music." Like so many other era-generated notions, this, too, did pass and we are all instinctively able to distinguish between fornication and great music. 

Jimmy with Dave Brubeck, Jimmy Heath and Mel Tormé, at BMI event,
flanked by Jean Banks and Burt Korall. (Photo by Gary Gershoff)
Of course, not everyone recognized great music when they heard it. Twelve years earlier, I made a living (though barely) spinning jazz records seven days a week on WHAT-FM in Philadelphia. My taste being eclectic, I played jazz of every kind throughout the week, but I devoted Sunday afternoons to my 78 rpm collection, so you know that it was a sometimes scratchy trek back in time. Philadelphia jazz listeners seemed open to a wide range of styles: older listeners enjoyed the nostalgia as well as the music, and the younger set appreciated hearing where their favorite sounds came from. There was, however, this one guy who didn't like what he heard, so he called me regularly on Sundays to complain. Why, he wondered, did I play all this "Uncle Tom" music? In one of our discussions, he pointed out that he was black and that this "Mickey Mouse" music—as he also called it—was "the kind of thing we are trying to get away from."

Jimmy Heath with his brothers Percy and Albert.
In the early 1960s, calls to radio stations were still off the air, so it was just Bill and I, arguing privately.  It would have been interesting had other listeners been able to join in. I have later come to understand why some black Americans wanted to distance themselves from the past, but—with European soil still clinging to the bottom of my shoes—I could not imagine how anyone, especially a professed jazz fan, might regard the Armstrong Hot Fives, Bechet's magical soprano rides, Morton's amazing Red Hot Peppers, or Ellington's extraordinary sound paintings as anything other than stunning examples of creativity. Bill was not to be swayed, but I took comfort in the fact that his were the only complaints.

Percy and Jimmy (photo by Dorothy Tanous)
About four years later, I had moved to New York City and was working at  WNEW when our music librarian was giving a new comedian a tour of the station. He was promoting his first album and we all had to meet him. "Chris Albertson!," he exclaimed after our introduction. "Are you the guy who used to play all that Uncle Tom music on WHAT?"

I have had very mixed feelings about Bill Cosby since that day.



I hope you remember to click on images for the Viagra™ effect, forgive me for the sync problem, enjoy this retro glimpse of Jimmy Heath, and leave a comment.
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