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Percy Heath

Percy Heath

American musician
The basics
Occupations Jazz musician
Countries United States of America
Gender male
Birth April 30, 1923 (Wilmington, New Hanover County, North Carolina, U.S.A.)
Death April 28, 2005 (Southampton, Suffolk County, New York, U.S.A.)
Authority Discogs id IMDB id ISNI id Library of congress id Musicbrainz id VIAF id
The details

Percy Heath (April 30, 1923 – April 28, 2005) was an American jazz bassist, brother to tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath and drummer Albert Heath, with whom he formed the Heath Brothers in 1975. Heath played with the Modern Jazz Quartet throughout their long history and also worked with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery and Thelonious Monk.


Heath was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, and spent his childhood in Philadelphia. His father played the clarinet and his mother sang in the church choir. He started playing violin at the age of eight and also sang locally. He was drafted into the Army in 1944, becoming a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, but saw no combat.

Deciding after the war to go into music, he bought a stand-up bass and enrolled in the Granoff School of Music in Philadelphia. Soon he was playing in the city's jazz clubs with leading artists. In Chicago in 1948, he recorded with his brother on a Milt Jackson album as members of the Howard McGhee Sextet. After moving to New York in the late 1940s, Percy and Jimmy Heath found work with Dizzy Gillespie's groups. Around this time, he was also a member of Joe Morris's band, together with Johnny Griffin.

It transpired that other members of the Gillespie big band, pianist John Lewis, drummer Kenny Clarke, Milt Jackson, and bassist Ray Brown, decided to form a permanent group; they were already becoming known for their interludes during Gillespie band performances that, as AllMusic.com says, gave the rest of the band much-needed set breaks---that would eventually become known as the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ). When Brown left the group to join his wife Ella Fitzgerald's band, Heath joined and the group was officially begun in 1952, with Connie Kay replacing Clarke soon afterward. The MJQ played regularly until it disbanded in 1974; it reformed in 1981 and last recorded in 1993.

In 1975, Percy Heath and his brothers formed the Heath Brothers with pianist Stanley Cowell. He would sometimes play the cello instead of the bass in these later performances.

In 2003, at the age of 80, Heath released his first album as bandleader through the Daddy Jazz label. The album, entitled A Love Song, garnered rave reviews and served as a fitting coda for his illustrious career. It featured brother Albert Heath on drums, bassist Peter Washington and pianist Jeb Patton.

Percy Heath died, after a second bout with bone cancer, two days short of his 82nd birthday, in Southampton, New York.

Heath was an avid striped bass fisherman, and surfcaster, who could be found on many a day, along the surf line of his beloved Montauk Point. He was well respected by the community, and his fellow fishermen. On May 27, 2006, a plaque was set into a 5000lb stone, at Turtle Cove, at Montauk Point, as a memorial. The ceremony was attended by his wife June, and three sons.


  • A Love Song (2003), with Jeb Patton (piano), Peter Washington (bass), Albert "Tootie" Heath (drums)
  • Vendome (1952, Prestige 851)
  • Modern Jazz Quartet, ii (1954–5, Prestige 170) including "Django" (1954)
  • Concorde (1955, Prestige 7005)
  • Fontessa (1956, Atlantic 1231) including "Versailles"
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet Plays No Sun in Venice (Atlantic, 1957)
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet (Atlantic, 1957)
  • Third Stream Music (1957, 1959–60, Atlantic. 1345) including "Sketch for Double String Quartet" (1959)
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet and the Oscar Peterson Trio at the Opera House (Verve, 1957)
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet at Music Inn Volume 2 (Atlantic, 1958)
  • Music from Odds Against Tomorrow (United Artists, 1959)
  • Pyramid (Atlantic, 1960)
  • European Concert (Atlantic, 1960 [1962])
  • Dedicated to Connie (Atlantic, 1960 [1995])
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet & Orchestra (Atlantic, 1960)
  • The Comedy (1962, Atlantic 1390)
  • Lonely Woman (Atlantic, 1962)
  • A Quartet is a Quartet is a Quartet (1963, Atlantic 1420)
  • Collaboration (Atlantic, 1964), with Laurindo Almeida
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet Plays George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (Atlantic, 1964–65)
  • Jazz Dialogue (Atlantic, 1965), with the All-Star Jazz Band
  • Concert in Japan '66 (Atlantic [Japan], 1966)
  • Blues at Carnegie Hall (Atlantic, 1966)
  • Place Vendôme (Philips, 1966), with The Swingle Singers
  • Under the Jasmin Tree (Apple, 1968)
  • Space (Apple, 1969)
  • Plastic Dreams (Atlantic, 1971)
  • The Legendary Profile (Atlantic, 1974)
  • In Memoriam (Little David, 1973)
  • Blues on Bach (Atlantic, 1973)
  • The Last Concert (Atlantic, 1974)
  • Reunion at Budokan 1981 (Pablo, 1981)
  • Together Again: Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival '82 (Pablo, 1982)
  • Echoes (Pablo, 1984)
  • Topsy: This One's for Basie (Pablo, 1985)
  • Three Windows (Atlantic, 1987)
  • For Ellington (East West, 1988)
  • MJQ & Friends: A 40th Anniversary Celebration (Atlantic, 1992–93)

As sideman

With Cannonball Adderley

  • Know What I Mean with Bill Evans (Riverside, 1961)

With Nat Adderley

  • Work Song (Riverside, 1960)

With Paul Bley

  • Paul Bley (EmArcy, 1954)

With Ruth Brown

  • Miss Rhythm (Atlantic, 1959)

With Miles Davis

  • Bags' Groove (1954)
  • Walkin' (1954)
  • Blue Haze (1954)
  • Miles Davis Volume 1 (1955)
  • Miles Davis Volume 2 (1955)
  • Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants (1958)
  • Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 (Columbia Legacy, 2015)

With Paul Desmond

  • First Place Again (Wartner Bros., 1959)
  • Easy Living (RCA Victor, 1963-65 [1966])

With Art Farmer

  • Early Art (New Jazz, 1954)
  • The Art Farmer Septet Prestige, 1953–54)
  • When Farmer Met Gryce (Prestige, 1954), with Gigi Gryce
  • Brass Shout (United Artists, 1959)

With Stan Getz

  • Stan Getz Quartets (Prestige, 1949-50 [1955])

With Dizzy Gillespie

  • Dee Gee Days: The Savoy Sessions (Savoy, 1951-52 [1976])
  • Dizzy and Strings (Norgran, 1954)
  • The Bop Session (Sonet, 1975), with Sonny Stitt, John Lewis, Hank Jones and Max Roach

With Benny Golson

  • Benny Golson and the Philadelphians (United Artists, 1958)

With Albert Heath

  • Kwanza (The First) (Muse, 1973)

With Jimmy Heath

  • Really Big! (Riverside, 1960)
  • The Quota (Riverside, 1961)
  • Triple Threat (Riverside, 1962)
  • Swamp Seed (Riverside, 1963)

With Elmo Hope

  • Trio and Quintet (Blue Note, 1953–54)
  • Homecoming! (Riverside, 1961)

With Milt Jackson

  • Meet Milt Jackson (Savoy, 1954)
  • Milt Jackson Quartet (Prestige, 1955)
  • Ballads & Blues (Atlantic, 1956)
  • Plenty, Plenty Soul (Atlantic, 1957)
  • Bags & Flutes (Atlantic, 1957)

With J. J. Johnson

  • J Is for Jazz (Columbia, 1956)

With Duke Jordan

  • Duke Jordan Trio and Quintet (Signal, 1955)

With John Lewis

  • The Modern Jazz Society Presents a Concert of Contemporary Music (Norgran, 1955)
  • Grand Encounter (Pacific Jazz, 1956)
  • Afternoon in Paris (Atlantic, 1957) with Sacha Distel
  • The John Lewis Piano (Atlantic, 1957)

With Howard McGhee

  • Howard McGhee and Milt Jackson (Savoy, 1948 [1955]) with Milt Jackson
  • The Return of Howard McGhee (Bethlehem, 1955)

With Wes Montgomery

  • The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (Riverside, 1960)

With Michel Sardaby

  • Night Cap (Sound Hills, 1970)

With Zoot Sims

  • The Brothers (Prestige, 1949)

With Kai Winding

  • Jay and Kai (Columbia, 1957)
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