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Percy Heath Still Best-Kept Jazz Secret at 80 - 2004-03-03

The passing of legendary bassist Ray Brown in 2002 left the jazz world wondering who would follow in his footsteps as the reigning "Father of the Bass." Veterans Dave Holland and Charlie Haden come to mind, and not to be overlooked, up-and-comer Christian McBride. But one of jazz's best-kept secrets and perhaps the most qualified to wear that title is bassist and composer Percy Heath.

Percy Heath has come a long way from Wilmington, North Carolina, where he was born in 1923. But the city of Wilmington hasn't forgotten their hometown jazz hero. Two years ago, Heath was inducted into Wilmington's Walk of Fame, an honor shared by former football star Roman Gabriel and the late network newsman David Brinkley.

Percy Heath said goodbye to Wilmington after high school, and became an officer in the United States Air Force, serving with an elite group of black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen. When World War II ended, Heath used his separation pay from the Air Force to buy an upright bass.

Percy Heath arrived in New York in 1947, just in time to join the bebop jazz movement that had been building for several years. He appeared alongside jazz pioneers Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker before finding a permanent home with The Modern Jazz Quartet in 1952. The world-famous quartet, consisting of Heath, pianist John Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, and drummer Connie Kay, performed well into the 1980s and 1990s. Today, Percy Heath remains the only surviving member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Heath has also had an esteemed career with The Heath Brothers, a leading jazz quartet featuring pianist Stanley Cowell and his younger brothers, Jimmy and Albert "Tootie" Heath.

Today, Percy Heath is busier than ever. He recently recorded his first album as a leader.

Percy Heath's A Love Song features a four-movement musical tribute to his father, as well as three more original compositions. There's also a rendition of the John Lewis classic Django, and Century Rag by the late jazz pianist Sir Roland Hanna.

Recorded the day after Percy Heath's 79th birthday, A Love Song is truly a meeting of two generations: Percy Heath and his brother Albert who plays drums and percussion on Suite For Pop; and two young lions of jazz: pianist Jeb Patton and bassist Peter Washington.