An Elegant Last Testament From Legendary Saxophonist Jimmy Heath
Verve Records Announces The Release Of Love Letter
Available Worldwide On July 17
A Masterful Collection Of Ballads That Features Luminaries Gregory Porter, Cécile McLorin Salvant, And Wynton Marsalis
Verve Records announces the release of Love Letter, a parting masterpiece and the first all-ballads album from magisterial tenor saxophonist-composer Jimmy Heath. The first single from the collection "Con Alma" is out now and you can listen to it here. Love Letter will be available worldwide on July 17 and is available by pre-order now.
In addition to original material, Love Letter is the jazz ambassador's beautiful take on seminal ballads, including songs written by Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, and Kenny Dorham. Recorded in New York during the 48 hours preceding Jimmy's 93rd birthday, and two more a month later in Atlanta, Jimmy presided over a brilliant cast of colleagues and friends. Propelling the album forward is a multi-generational all-star unit, including NEA Jazz Master pianist Kenny Barron, poll-winning guitarist Russell Malone, soulful vibraphone veteran Monte Croft, New York first-call bassist David Wong, and all-world drummer Lewis Nash. Augmenting the group on separate tracks are 21st century vocal superstars Gregory Porter and Cécile McLorin Salvant, and trumpet icon Wynton Marsalis.
The collection includes Heath's elegant arrangements of three less traveled originals culled from his vast body of work. He distinctively interprets "Con Alma," an essential jazz standard by Dizzy Gillespie, his lodestar from the moment they met in 1946. Joining him and Kenny Barron in erudite, tender dialogue on trumpeter Dorham's "La Mesha" is Marsalis. On "Don't Explain," the Dorham gem and Arthur Herzog-Billie Holiday collaboration, Heath's soulful, trenchant, urbane solo flights evoke his poetic spirit with old master concision and the authoritative chops of a musician half his age.
A highlight in a program of highlights is Cécile McLorin Salvant's poignant tour de force portrayal of unrequited love that is at the core of Billie Holiday's lyric on the blue ballad "Left Alone," composed by Mal Waldron. Another is Gregory Porter's compelling, gentle reading of Gordon Parks' underground classic "Don't Misunderstand."
"Jimmy always wanted to know the lyrics of a song before playing it," says Carol Friedman, who co-produced Love Letter with Grammy-winning producer Brian Bacchus. "That particular sensitivity no doubt contributes to the intimacy of his sound and is the reason he loved playing ballads - whether a tune had lyrics or not, he was singing with that horn. This is the record Jimmy never got to make. Asking him if he wanted to do an all-ballads album was preceded by decades of us talking about singers and love songs."
Two of Heath's three originals on Love Letter gestate in orchestral charts - "Fashion or Passion" comes from a 2004 Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra commission, while "Inside Your Heart" - Heath's only soprano saxophone vehicle on the date - is the second movement of The Endless Search, a suite Heath recorded in 2010 with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra. On the third original, it sounds as though Billy Strayhorn was on Heath's mind when he wrote "Ballad from Upper Neighbors Suite," which he'd previously addressed on a 1995 recording.
A listener unfamiliar with the back story of Love Letter would not imagine that the main instrumental voice throughout the proceedings is a jockey-framed 93-year-old man surely aware of his impending mortality and facing it with pluck and equanimity. He brings the full breadth of his intellectual powers to this final salvo. As Gary Giddins notes: "The result is pure, primo Heath: polished, inventive, surprising, candid, beautiful."