Isn’t it funny how we think we know an artist after decades of enjoying his playing only to hear him one day in an altogether different way? Albert “Tootie” Heath is one of jazz’s legendary drummers. He is the driving force behind the Heath Brothers band and was a sideman for such greats as Art Farmer, Clifford Jordan and Yusef Lateef. Tootie is still Tootie, a hard bop specialist who boasts what drummer Matt Wilson called a “transparent” sound. But on his acclaimed 2013 album, Tootie’s Tempo – one of only a handful of releases under his name – he presents himself in a charming new light in reworking and reimagining some of his favorite tunes.
With the encyclopedic support of pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Ben Street, with whom he’ll be playing tonight, Tootie runs quite a gamut of composers. They include James P. Johnson, Billy Strayhorn, Mal Waldron, Henry Mancini and Antonio Carlos Jobim. The album also includes Matt Dennis’ “Violets for Your Furs,” which Heath played on his first recording session, John Coltrane’s Coltrane. The title cut is a solo drum recasting of Frank Foster’s Count Basie staple, “Shiny Stockings.”
The coming together of Heath, Iverson and Street several years ago in New York was kissed by fate. Billy Hart, the regular drummer in Iverson’s non-Bad Plus trio, couldn’t make a gig. Heath was asked to sub for him. Along with Back to the Future, that’s one of the best alterings of history ever.