By Devon “Doc” Wendell
By 1960, Jimmy Heath was known as a true bop titan on the tenor saxophone. But on Riverside’s Really Big!, recorded that year, Heath’s big band arrangements and the incredible artists who made up his orchestra (Jimmy Heath, tenor saxophone, Clark Terry, trumpet, Nat Adderley, cornet, Tom McIntosh, trombone, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, alto saxophone, Dick Berg, French horn, Pat Patrick, baritone saxophone, Tommy Flanagan and Cedar Walton pianos, Percy Heath, bass and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums) made this recording one of the most spectacularly original releases on the Riverside label. And it’s one that still holds strong today.
This is Jimmy Heath’s first leading a big band exploration consisting mostly of bluesy originals such as “Big P,” “Old Fashioned Fun,” and “Nails.” Heath’s elegantly swinging horn arrangements and sense of contrary motion make each composition special and timeless.
Heath’s love and understanding of big band jazz really shows throughout Really Big! Solos by Heath, Terry, Nat, and “Cannonball” Adderley are burning and fit beautifully with the theme of each carefully crafted piece. The Heath brothers’ (Percy and Albert “Tootie” Heath) rhythm backing is both subtle and melodic.
“Mana’s Mood” is a stunning ballad. It stands alongside the finest big band ballads composed by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. Both Walton’s and Heath’s solos are so graceful and soulful that they bring tears to my eyes every time I hear them.
Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere” is a well known hard-bop classic but Heath’s fresh big band arrangement opens up more solo space for Heath and Terry and makes it hard to believe this could have been written for anything but a ten piece ensemble like this.
Although Bronislaw Kaper and Ned Washington’s “On Green Dolphin Street” has already been done by many artists in the jazz world such as Mel Torme, Miles Davis, Urbie Green, Ahmad Jamal, Jack Sheldon, Bill Evans, and Wynton Kelly, Heath’s rendition on this album makes you feel as if you’re hearing it for the very first time. “Tootie” and Percy’s bass and drum intro is beyond funky. Tom McIntosh’s trombone solo glides along beautifully with Tommy Flanagan’s slick and precise piano comping. “Cannonball” Adderley’s alto sax solo cooks with true dynamics and blues driven soul.
Not much in life swings harder than the up-tempo “The Picture Of Heath.” If you’re not yet into big band jazz, this piece would be a perfect introduction. Clark Terry, Tom McIntosh, and Nat Adderley briefly trade eights before Cedar Walton’s harmonically brilliant piano solo. This composition is a highlight of Heath’s entire career. Jimmy Heath made this album during a time in which big band jazz was being pushed under the rug. For the most part hard-bop, modal jazz, and the beginnings of avant-garde jazz were at the center of attention of the jazz buying public and press. This means Heath and his ten piece orchestra made this record out of sheer love and that love is felt all the way through Really Big!.
Grab this one quick if you don’t already have a copy.