DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
Brotherly Jazz – The Heath Brothers (2006)
Published on July 28, 2007
Documentary with concert excerpts
Studio: DanSun Productions 102
Video: 4:3 full screen, color & B&W
Audio: PCM Stereo
Length: 70 minutes
The stimulus for this excellent jazz film was one of the last concerts the remarkable Heath Brothers performed together, in July of 2004, at an outdoor venue in Berkeley CA. (Brother Percy and one of the many celebrities in the film, Peter Jennings, both passed away in 2005.) Selections from the concert are interspersed with the three musical brothers telling their respective stories to the camera, plus historical commentary supported by film clips and archival stills.
The brothers had a special connection which made their quartet – with pianist Jeb Patton for this appearance – a musical gem, and they also shared a wonderful kidding around with one another that reminded one of some of the other jazz wits such as Dizzy. (Their axes, by the way, are: Jimmy – tenor & alto sax; Percy – bass & cello; Albert “Tootie” – drums.) Tootie’s explanation is just a sample of the brothers’ wit: “Had it not been for my older brothers, I might have gone astray and become a doctor or lawyer.” But their stories don’t shy away from the terrible struggles of race prejudice, drugs (Jimmy served 4 1/2 years in penitentiaries) and other painful times. The discussion of the prized cabaret card was explained more completely than I had heard before. Getting it meant paying off bribes to police and officials, and Jimmy was barred from leaving the Philadelphia area due to his prison time and that killed an opportunity to replace John Coltrane with Miles Davis’ tour. Percy had been one of the acclaimed Tuskegee Airmen in WW II; Dizzy just called him “Lieutenant.”
One of the most appealing musical selections is when Percy switches from his usual bass – as he played forever in the Modern Jazz Quartet – to his cello, which is tuned like the bass. His obvious joy at what he is playing is a delight to view. I felt the biggest attraction of the documentary was being able to see and hear from a lengthy list of famous names in jazz, and see how they looked in 2004 – aside from those seen in historic film clips – such as Dizzy, Miles and Charlie Parker. The list included Taj Mahal, Sonny Rollins, Producer Orrin Keepnews, Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride, Billy Taylor, Marion McPartland, Jon Faddis, Blue Note’s Bruce Lundvall, The Clayton Brothers, Jack DeJohnette, Gerald Wilson and Chico Hamilton. I had no idea what a few of them looked like, for example.
– John Henry