Verve Announces Posthumous Jimmy Heath Album, ‘Love Letter’

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Jimmy Heath’s final recording, Love Letter, is set for release July 17.

(Photo: Carol Friedman)

Verve recently announced the release of Jimmy Heath’s final recording, an album completed just one month prior to the saxophonist’s death on Jan. 19 at the age of 93.

Love Letter, a collection of ballads that spans covers like “Con Alma” and Heath originals, counts contributions by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, pianist Kenny Barron, guitarist Russell Malone, drummer Lewis Nash and vocalists Gregory Porter and Cécile McLorin Salvant. For the album, the bandleader mainly stuck to alto saxophone, picking up the soprano for “Inside Your Heart,” a piece originating in a 2010 suite Heath recorded with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra.

In Heath’s obituary, DownBeat contributor Ted Panken wrote of the late saxophonist’s enthusiasm for mentoring young musicians: “Like his lodestar, Dizzy Gillespie, to whom he dedicated the song ‘Without You, No Me,’ Heath also excelled as a communicator, conveying information he’d accrued as a performer, composer and public figure. He did this both formally—helping found the master’s degree in jazz studies program at Queens College—and informally, in off-the-cuff conversations with dozens of acolytes.”

Despite Love Letter being the final work of a performer who started leading recording dates about 60 years ago, there’s no indication that Heath’s powers were at all diminished; the recording depicts a musician keenly engaged with his material, aiming to explore the nuances of each and every composition.

“Jimmy always wanted to know the lyrics of a song before playing it,” said Carol Friedman, co-producer of Love Letter. “That particular sensitivity no doubt contributes to the intimacy of his sound and is the reason he loved playing ballads—whether a tune had lyrics or not, he was singing with that horn.” DB



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