52 Jazz Tracks for 2021. 50. ‘Smiling Billy Suite’ – The Heath Brothers, Marching On, 1975

The 50th of Jon Turney’s weekly selections sees a great jazz family uniting to good effect.

In the 1970s, hard times for old boppers, the three Heath brothers, Jimmy, Percy and younger sibling Albert formed a fine band with Stanley Cowell on piano. There were additions and substitutions later, but that basic line-up was the best – the feeling with Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums was special. Likewise, this long hard to find LP, their first, still seems the strongest.

The brothers work together superbly, unsurprisingly. There is a lot of great playing from all four, and especially from Jimmy Heath who is as undemonstratively masterful on flutes as he was on saxes. Equally important, he was an unusually gifted composer, as here.

Smiling Billy Suite works up to some more heated sax in part 4, but is mostly in the gentler vein that marks the record. It still swings like anything, as Percy’s much-sampled bass line here attests. Part 1 begins with solo bowed bass, then brings in flute and piano over the plucked bass figure that recurs throughout. It is determinedly oblivious to the fashions in jazz (and rock) of the time, just a set of beautifully crafted pieces, played by four masters, that are a pure pleasure to listen to.

Hear the track on Bandcamp

Not yet a subscriber of our Wednesday Breakfast Headlines?
Join the mailing list for a weekly roundup of Jazz News.


More on this recording on Jon’s Bristol Jazz Log

Read Jon’s introduction to the ’52 tracks’ series

Week 49. Easy to Love – Lee Konitz and Red Mitchell

Spotify playlist for the series

2 replies »

  1. MARCHIN’ ON is a long-overdue prime candidate for reissue in any format. Another masterwork from the same period which ought to be out on CD that also involves the work of pianist Stanley Cowell is ILLUSION SUITE, a Cowell trio date with Jimmy Hopps on drums and a young Stanley Clarke splendidly dancing with his acoustic bass.

Leave a Reply