Tag Archives: Jimmy Heath

2016 NEA Jazz Master Archie Shepp

The 2016 NEA Jazz Masters were honored at a tribute concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

This year’s class includes Archie Shepp who grew up in West Philadelphia. During an NEA interview, Shepp talked about jazz and Philadelphia:

The music that we call jazz has always been important in the African American community, especially in the poorer neighborhoods.

There was a lot of racism and prejudice, but a lot of music, a lot of blues and some good times. Music was all over Philadelphia. You could go down to North Philadelphia and hear young John Coltrane or Johnny Coles, Jimmy Oliver, Jimmy Heath. I suppose that’s what jazz is all about, suffering and good times, and somehow making the best of all of that.

At the tribute concert for Benny Carter, I got a chance to spend some time with Shepp during the break. He reminisced about the jam sessions at the Heath Brothers’ Family Home. He shared that he learned how to play chords from Coltrane and Lee Morgan.

Truth be told, Philadelphia’s contribution to jazz is mostly an untold story. We must capture stories about Philly’s jazz scene while those who know the history are still here.

Uptown Theater

Opened on Feb. 16, 1929, the Uptown began life as a movie house. In the 1950s, it became a music venue. The jazz and blues greats who graced the Uptown stage included Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Gloria Lynne, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson, Ramsey Lewis, Oscar Brown, Jr., Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Jimmy Smith.

John Coltrane and Miles Davis played there one Christmas Day, but after the first show, they left for New York City because the promoter didn’t pay them.

In 1958, legendary disc jockey Georgie Woods began producing rhythm & blues shows at the Uptown. The 2,040-seat theater became a stop on the “chitlin’ circuit.” The Uptown was where jazz met R&B. Saxophonist Sam Reed was the house bandleader. The Sam Reed Orchestra included Bootsie Barnes, Jimmy Heath and Odean Pope.

The Uptown’s heyday was the 1960s and ‘70s. Since the final curtain in 1978, the interior of the Uptown has deteriorated almost beyond recognition. With the exception of the seats, none of the original artifacts remain.

Uptown Theater

Linda Richardson, president of the Uptown Entertainment & Development Corporation, hopes to bring back the good times. In 2001, UEDC purchased the theater with the goal of renovating the theater into a technology center, artist lofts and office space.”

For information on how you can help restore this Art Deco palace to its former glory and preserve an iconic piece of black music, visit the Uptown Entertainment & Development Corporation.

The Underground

In his autobiography, Jimmy Heath recalled that erstwhile jazz drummer Bill Cosby was a bartender at the Underground:

I still kept going back to Philly for gigs, and between 1960 and 1964, in addition to the Sahara, the Showboat, the Uptown, and Pep’s, another club I worked in Philly was the Underground, located at Broad and Pine streets. The Underground had a number of rooms and a few different bars. In one room were women dancers, and in another was a comedy act. I was playing in the Underground with Sam Dockery, Mickey Roker, and Buster Williams when I first met Bill Cosby, a Philly native, who was bartending at the Underground and telling jokes at the same time. When we talk about those days, I tell him, “I was big-time and you were behind the bar.”

By the way, Cosby wrote the foreword to Heath’s biography “I Walked With Giants” (Temple University Press, 2010).

Heath Brothers’ Family Home

In his autobiography, “I Walked with Giants,” Jimmy Heath lovingly recalled the jam sessions in his parents’ basement that would attract the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane.

Jimmy Heath Family Home - Basement

Benny Golson recounted:

Enough cannot be said about Mr. and Mrs. Heath, his mother and father, who continuously put up with all of us who used to come to their home in South Philadelphia, remove all of the furniture in the living and dining room, then begin our rehearsal. No matter what we did, how much noise (music) we made or how late we did it, they were always our champions. It was their support that, in part, enabled us to grow. And grow we did.

And grow they did. Both Heath and Golson are NEA Jazz Masters.