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[whitespace] Jimmy Heath Heath's Bars: Saxman Jimmy Heath throws down with his sextet at Stanford.

Dream Team

The Stanford Jazz Festival brings fantasy combinations to life

By Yoshi Kato

SPORTS NUTS do it. Cinephiles do it, too. They play coach or casting director in imaginary fantasy leagues and big-budget productions. The sports fanatic might put together his favorite outfields--perhaps Barry, Vlad and Sammy for offense and Torii, Shinjo and Ichiro for defense. The film buff imagines a Godfather Part IV with James Gandolfini as the Andy Garcia character's half-brother, along with Hilary Swank as an empowered, 21st-century-style moll.

Music fans are no different. Rockers with a lot of time on their hands and, possibly, chemical stimulation, have long assembled their dream "afterlife" bands. Where else could Kurt Cobain scrape guitar, Dee Dee Ramone grind bass and Ian Curtis moan feverishly while Paul C. programs the drums?

Jazz disciples dream differently, using more complex patterns. They often wonder how the pairing of certain rhythm sections would work with certain front lines. They imagine an intersection between old and new schools, technique and flash, chops and raw talent.

Jim Nadel, founder and executive director of the Stanford Jazz Workshop, gets to live out fantasies that for most of us are limited to armchairs, bar stools or car trips. In booking the Stanford Jazz Festival, he's the mad scientist stitching together the acts for the annual summertime concert series.

Next weekend (Aug. 3-4), the festival presents two first-time-ever concerts. On Saturday night at Dinkelspiel Auditorium, the Jimmy Heath Sextet will perform with the dream-team lineup of Heath brother Tootie on drums, bassist Rufus Reid, pianist Harold Mabern, trumpeter Jim Rotondi and alto saxophonist Andrew Speight.

Tenor saxophonist/composer/arranger Jimmy Heath is both a link to jazz's bebop past and a guide to its future. The 75-year-old began his musical journey on alto saxophone at age 14. His first band included fellow Philadelphian and future saxophone demigod John Coltrane.

In 1947, he moved to New York to enlist in the burgeoning bebop revolution. Along with older brother, Percy, a bassist, and younger brother Tootie, the Heaths put their stamp on the area's fabled jazz scene.

A member of Dizzy Gillespie's big band from 1949 to 1950, Dizzy gave Heath plenty of exposure--indeed, Diz once quipped, "If you know Jimmy, you know bop." Heath later wrote for and worked with the likes of Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Milt Jackson and Gil Evans.

The sextet features brother Tootie, with whom Jimmy (and Percy) first officially teamed up under the Heath Brothers moniker in 1975. Pianist Harold Mabern is a part of Detroit's rich jazz legacy. Trumpeter Jim Rotondi, who hails from Sacramento, has enjoyed stints in orchestras lead by Ray Charles and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. Reid is a first-call bassist and educator; Australian saxophonist Andrew Speight currently teaches jazz at San Francisco State University.

The group represents a unique combination of players. Though the six have performed together in different permutations, they've never performed on the same bandstand at the same time.

Twenty-four hours later, at the same location, guitarist John Abercrombie will make his debut with Reid and drummer Akira Tana. The heralded electric guitarist has spent the last 30-plus years effortlessly combining jazz, rock, experimental and international musical flavors into his own distinctive sonic sensibility. Reid and Tana co-founded the group TanaReid in 1990 and, along with Abercrombie, will be teaching during the Jazz Residency portion of this year's Workshop.

"Rufus and Akira have a lot of history together, and they each individually have played with John," Nadel notes. "But they've never played together as a trio."

That's the kind of special synergy that Nadel wants at the Stanford Jazz Festival: Place different eras and personalities in different combos, shake well and watch the sparks fly. "We look to bring together combinations of master musicians," Nadel explains. "Concerts that have never or have rarely been heard before."

Jimmy Heath performs Friday (Aug. 3) and John Abercrombie performs Saturday (Aug. 4) at the Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Stanford. Tickets are $28-$30. (650.725.ARTS)

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From the July 25-31, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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