Percy Heath Obituary

by Bob Putignano
Goldmine Magazine July 2005

One of the greatest bass players of all time passed away just two days prior to his prior to his eighty-second birthday (4/28/05). Percy Heath was the last surviving member of The Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ).

Percy also had a great sense of humor and every time I would see him he would tell me “I’m on 81st street” meaning he was in his 81st year of life.

Heath worked with the MJQ from 1952-1995, and right up until his passing Percy also toured with brothers Jimmy and Tootie as the Heath Brothers. He also recorded with Dizzy, Miles, Monk, Ornette, Horace Silver, and Cannonball. Oddly enough he only recorded one album credited to his name “A Love Song” (2002.) All in all Percy appeared on over 300 recordings.

The last time I saw Percy perform was with his brothers at NYC’s Blue Note in the fall of 2004, where Percy told me his bass was 250 years old. “It’s a Ruggieri from Italy that I have been playing since 1956.” Percy’s impeccable sense of time, blazing speed, and gorgeous tone was second to none, he played be-bop, blues, and when the brothers were in a funky mood- Percy could funk it up with the best of them. He was a classic gentleman, as he always wore a suit and tie.

Percy is timeless and his music will live on past all of our times. I am proud to say I knew him and I always made sure to find time to see him perform. I will definitely miss seeing Percy, as will countless other jazz fans.

Bob Putignano
Radio Host WFDU’s “Sounds of Blue”
President of the NY Blues and Jazz Society