August 10, 2020. When legendary saxophonist Jimmy Heath passed away on January 19th, Philadelphia lost one of our upper-echelon of jazz—a high priest, if you will. Less than two months later, we lost McCoy Tyner and Danny Ray Thompson.
Then COVID-19 hit and ruthlessly stole Wallace Roney, Henry Grimes, and Bootsie Barnes, while Jymie Merritt passed in April of non-COVID related causes. After mourning the loss of so many greats from our jazz community in such a short period of time, there is finally a bright spot—Jimmy Heath left us Love Letter.
Jimmy recorded most of this record in the days leading up to his 93rd birthday, and called on an all-star band to execute his vision. Fellow Philadelphian Kenny Barron is on piano, Russell Malone plays guitar, Monte Croft is on vibes, and the timekeepers are bassist David Wong and drummer Lewis Nash. They masterfully deliver Heath’s arrangements of classic ballads, like “Con Alma” and “Don’t Explain.”
Some very special guests join Heath and company on songs selected especially for them.
Cecile McLClorin Salvant’s unique vocal stylings provide a fresh (and respectful) update to “Left Alone,” a tune made famous by Billie Holiday. Gregory Porter’s delivery of “Don’t Misunderstand” is lovely, and somehow makes the lyrics stick with the listener for just a little bit longer.
A high priest in his own right, Wynton Marsalis appears on the Kenny Dorham composition, “La Mesha,” and his trumpet beautifully dances with Heath’s sax, highlighting the lyricism Heath was known for with his instrument.
Heath also revisited three of his original compositions to round out his Love Letter. He put the final touched on this album one month before he passed away. He had no idea that this aptly named album would be a beacon to the community that he helped build in a time of great peril, and for that, we are more than thankful.