Double Bill: The Heath Brothers and
The Bobby Hutcherson Tribute Band
Jackson Theater, 4400 Day School Place, Santa Rosa
Saturday, June 3, 7 p.m. $75, $55 and $35
Talent doesn’t always run equally among siblings, but when it does the results can often be astounding. Take the case of the Brothers Heath: saxophonist, flautist and composer Jimmy Heath, drummer Albert (“Tootie”) Heath and the late bassist Percy Heath. Extraordinarily gifted instrumentalists who had each proven themselves as jazz mainstays of the 1950s and 60s – Jimmy with his collaborations with Miles Davis, Milt Jackson and others; Albert with his work with legends including John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, and Percy as a linchpin with the acclaimed Modern Jazz Quartet – these three marvels united as The Heath Brothers in 1975, recording and performing together until Percy’s death in 2005.
The band’s superb recordings on Strata – East, Columbia, Antilles and Concord Records revealed a swinging unit that drew on hard bop roots while continually looking to the future. Incorporating modal forms, touches of funk and a bedrock of bop and the blues, The Heath Brothers were an in-the-moment ensemble that became of the most dependably compelling attractions on the jazz scene.
Withstanding the great loss of Percy’s passing, Jimmy and Albert decided to soldier on, expanding the mighty legacy the band had established among the jazz cognoscenti. Recruiting two exceptionally skillful younger players, both thoroughly conversant with the Heath aesthetic–the pianist Jeb Patton and the bassist David Wong–Jimmy and Albert rebooted The Heath Brothers, declaring their resilience with the aptly titled 2009 recording, “Endurance,” released on JLP Records. The special individuality of the band was still in place, now incorporating the talents of two incomparable veterans still at the top of their games, with the passion of the newer members. Masterful playing was in abundance, and Jimmy’s great gifts as a composer and small group arranger were not to be missed.
Whether performing durable standards like “Autumn In New York” or Jimmy’s superbly crafted originals (remember, this is the man who wrote such classics as “Gingerbread Boy” and “C.T.A.”), The Heath Brothers consistently exhibit a rare artistry built on talent, and in this special case, blood. A vital link to the past, The Heath Brothers still keep an eye trained on the horizon.
Bobby Hutcherson’s death on August 15, 2016 robbed the world of a genius who helped move the vibraphone into the forefront of modern jazz. A brilliant performer, recording artist and composer, Hutcherson electrified the jazz scene with his inventive and soulful playing. Paying tribute to this musical titan will be a quartet comprised of three former Hutcherson collaborators– Ray Drummond on bass, Victor Lewis on drums, and musical director Renee Rosnes on piano–joined by Steve Nelson, one of the most renowned vibraphonists on today’s scene. No more appropriate – or talented – ensemble could be assembled to applaud this beacon of post-bop jazz, a man who called the West Coast home for much of his life.
This celebratory quartet will draw on landmarks from Hutcherson’s decades-long career. An inspiring, influential instrumentalist, Hutcherson was also the composer of many memorable tunes including “Bouquet,” “Subtle Neptune,” “Total Eclipse” and the classic, “Little B’s Poem,” (written for his son, Barry), some of which will most likely be heard during this concert. A questing modernist, Hutcherson was also fully comfortable with mainstream bebop; few could romp through a standard, be it from the jazz repertoire or the Great American Songbook, like “Hutch.”
A familiar face at the festival, with five appearances under his belt dating from our very first festival in 1999, to 2014, when he was a special guest with the Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap duo, Hutcherson was a beloved and respected member of the international jazz community. An inaugural member of the SFJazz Collective, Hutcherson also received a Jazz Master Fellowship Award from the NEA in 2010.
Yet let’s leave it to Sonny Rollins, who once summed it all up on a personal note: “Bobby is a very honest person. He couldn’t play the way he does without that honesty. He has an innocence that’s childlike in a way. He’s a great player and a great person, and that helps boost humanity a little bit.” Hutcherson, as this special performance will no doubt surely remind us, will be missed.