Albert Heath, Jazz Drum Virtuoso, Is Dead at 88

Albert Heath, a virtuoso jazz drummer who collaborated with luminaries like John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Nina Simone and Herbie Hancock; performed and recorded with his older brothers, Percy and Jimmy; and for a few years played alongside Percy in one of the great jazz ensembles, the Modern Jazz Quartet, died on Wednesday in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 88.

The cause of his death, it a hospital, was leukemia, his stepson Curt Flood Jr. said.

Mr. Heath, who was known as Tootie, was primarily a bebop and hard bop drummer but was adept in a range of styles. In 2020, the National Endowment for the Arts named him a Jazz Master, an honor that his brothers had received earlier.

He accepted the news with a mixture of humility and self-confidence.

“I am honored that they acknowledged me,” he told The Santa Fe New Mexican, “but it doesn’t mean anything because I’ve always thought I was a master.”

From left, Albert, Jimmy and Percy Heath in an undated photo. They began working together as the Heath Brothers in 1975.Credit…Alan Nahigian

Mr. Heath’s career had its origins with his family in Philadelphia, where his father played clarinet in an Elks marching band, his mother sang in a church choir and his brother Jimmy, a saxophonist, brought members of his big band — including his fellow saxophonist John Coltrane — to the Heaths’ house.

“They’d have section rehearsals in our parents’ house because it wasn’t big enough to have the whole band in there, 18 pieces or so,” Mr. Heath said in an interview with the website All About Jazz in 2015. “So the trumpets would come one day, the reeds the next. The drummers and the bassists would be there a third day.”

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