Percy Heath (, Jr.) (Wilmington, NC, 30 April 1923)


Double bass player


He grew up in Philadelphia in a musical family. After playing violin in junior high school he took up double bass in 1946 when he enrolled at the Granoff School of Music. Within months he was performing in local bands, and the following year he and his brother (2) Jimmy Heath moved to New York with Howard McGhee's sextet. During the next few years he played with many important bop musicians, including Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, J. J. Johnson, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, and Horace Silver. In 1951 he replaced Ray Brown in Milt Jackson's quartet, and remained with it when, in 1952, it was renamed the Modern Jazz Quartet. In 1975, shortly after this group disbanded temporarily, he, Jimmy, and (3) Albert "Tootie" Heath formed a quartet, the Heath Brothers, with Stanley Cowell; at that time he began playing piccolo bass. He has continued to work with the Modern Jazz Quartet and the Heath Brothers into the mid-1980s, and has also participated in various short-term projects.


Heath is one of the finest ensemble players of his generation and produces well-crafted solos; some of the best of these may be heard on albums by the Heath Brothers and include The Watergate Blues on the album Marchin' on (1975, Strata-East 19766) and Yardbird Suite on Passing thru (1978, Columbia JC35573), both played on piccolo bass. His principal contributions in many contexts are the solid, flowing bass lines upon which others improvise.


Thomas Owens


The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Macmillan Reference Ltd 1988