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Percy Heath, Longtime Member of Legendary Jazz Quartet Dies at Age 81

U.S. jazz musician Percy Heath has died at the age of 81.

Percy Heath
(2001 file photo)
The bass player was the last surviving member of the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet, which gained fame for its unique mix of bebop and classical music during four decades as an ensemble.

Heath was born in 1923 in the southeastern U.S. state of North Carolina, and grew up in Philadelphia. He served as a fighter pilot in World War II before starting his music career in the late 1940s. He played with such jazz greats as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

In 1952, Heath and three others formed the Modern Jazz Quartet, which stayed together for 22 years. The group reunited in the early 1980s, and performed regularly deep into the 1990s. Heath also performed in a trio with his younger brothers - saxophonist Jimmy and drummer Albert.