I Walked with Giants

The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath

Jimmy Heath and Joseph McLaren
Book Cover

HC: $39.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-0198-4
Publication: Jan 10

Ebook: $39.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-0200-4

344 pages
6 x 9
35 halftones

A life in music portrayed by an NEA jazz master and his legendary friends

Read the Foreword and Introduction (pdf).


Composer of more than 100 jazz pieces, three-time Grammy nominee, and performer on more than 125 albums, Jimmy Heath has earned a place of honor in the history of jazz. Over his long career, Heath knew many jazz giants such as Charlie Parker and played with other innovators including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and especially Dizzy Gillespie. Heath also won their respect and friendship. In this extraordinary autobiography, the legendary Heath creates a “dialogue” with musicians and family members. As in jazz, where improvisation by one performer prompts another to riff on the same theme, I Walked with Giants juxtaposes Heath’s account of his life and career with recollections from jazz giants about life on the road and making music on the world’s stages. His memories of playing with his equally legendary brothers Percy and Albert (aka “Tootie”) dovetail with their recollections. Heath reminisces about a South Philadelphia home filled with music and a close-knit family that hosted musicians performing in the city’s then thriving jazz scene. Milt Jackson recalls, “I went to their house for dinner…Jimmy’s father put Charlie Parker records on and told everybody that we had to be quiet till dinner because he had Bird on…. When I (went) to Philly, I’d always go to their house.”; Today Heath performs, composes, and works as a music educator and arranger. By turns funny, poignant, and extremely candid, Heath’s story captures the rhythms of a life in jazz.

Table of Contents

Foreword: In the Basement, by Bill Cosby Acknowledgments Introduction, by Wynton Marsalis Part One First Chorus (1926–1949) 1 Finding a Rhythm: Philadelphia and Wilmington, North Carolina 2 Big Band Connections 3 Organizing and Melodizing Part Two Second Chorus (1949–1969) 4 High Note–Low Note: Dizzy and Miles 5 Sharp Dissonance to Smooth Harmony with Mona 6 On the Riverside 7 Maintaining the Groove Part Three Third Chorus (1969–1986) 8 Stretching Out: Jazz Transitions 9 Marchin’ On: The Heath Brothers 10 “For the Public”: The Heath Brothers Part Four Fourth Chorus (1986–) 11 Reharmonization: Queens College 12 Up-Tempo Mode 13 Aroma of the Roses 14 Endless Stroll Appendixes Appendix A: Unique Names Appendix B: Honors and Awards Appendix C: Selected Discography Appendix D: Compositions Appendix E: Chronology Index

About the Author(s)

Jimmy Heath, an NEA Jazz Master, is widely recognized as one of the greats in jazz. A saxophonist, composer, arranger, and educator, Heath grew up in Philadelphia with his renowned brothers, Percy, the longtime bassist with the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Albert “Tootie," a highly respected drummer. The three formed the Heath Brothers Band in the ’70s. Jimmy Heath directed the Jazz Studies master’s degree program in performance at Queens College (CUNY).

Joseph McLaren is Professor of English at Hofstra University, the author of Langston Hughes: Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921-1943, and editor of several additional titles.