Illuminating the rhythms of jazz

Seasoned jazz drummer Tootie Heath brings his Whole Drum Truth to Taos on Saturday night (March 7). courtesy photo

It’s not every day that jazz drummers form a drummers’ ensemble to spotlight one another’s abilities. But that is exactly what legendary drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath has designed.

His Whole Drum Truth features himself and drummers John Trentacosta and Loren Bienvenu. The group provides a unique opportunity to hear all the subtle rhythmic structures of jazz fully expressed in pieces composed by artists such as Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, and tunes made famous by musicians including Art Blakey and Max Roach.

Heath is the brother of the late double-bassist Percy Heath and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath whom he traveled the world with as the Heath Brothers band. Albert Heath has played with many jazz greats, and was chosen by John Lewis to be the last drummer for the Modern Jazz Quartet. He began his drumming career in Philadelphia, and has lived in New York City, Sweden, Denmark, New Jersey and Los Angeles. Heath and his wife moved to Santa Fe six years ago.

This Saturday (March 7) at 7:30 p.m. the Taos Jazz Bebop Society presents Heath and his Whole Drum Truth at Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership. After the Whole Drum Truth, the Tootie Heath Trio will take the stage with Heath on drums, Burt Dalton on piano and Colin Deuble on bass for some swinging jazz.

Heath began learning the drums at an early age. He came from a musical family, with a father who played clarinet for a marching band and a mother who sang in a church choir. His older brothers played rhythm and blues and big band music. “I was exposed to almost every kind of music possible,” Heath told me over the phone from his home in Santa Fe.

“Jazz is a very special type of music because you’re required to play all kinds of rhythms,” said Heath as he explained that part of the role of a jazz drummer is to be aware of other cultures and their particular rhythms.

“It has always been that way,” said Heath. “The guys that went before me – part of their requirement was to play all these different rhythms.”

Though he doesn’t recall how many recordings he has made over his long career as a jazz drummer, Heath has made many. He made his debut on “Coltrane,” saxophonist John Coltrane’s first album, and recorded with Coltrane again on the album “Lush Life.” He has also recorded with Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Nina Simone, Bobby Timmons, Yusef Lateef, Herbie Hancock, Milt Jackson, Wes Montgomery and J.J. Johnson, among many others.

“I’ve made recordings with a lot of people, but the one I did with Herbie Hancock called ‘The Prisoner’ and another one with Wes Montgomery are two of my favorites,” said Heath. Currently, he is working on a recording project with bassist Ron Carter and guitarist Gregg Fells.

The Whole Drum Truth began in New York. “We played in New Orleans, and went to South Africa and played at the Cape Town Jazz Festival. We played at the Lincoln Center in New York, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.,” said Heath. Now that he lives in New Mexico, Heath has connected with drummers here to continue the Whole Drum Truth.

Originally from Staten Island, John Trentacosta played jazz with Jimmy Knepper, Chuck Wayne, Don Joseph and the Al Porcino Big Band. He moved to New Mexico in 1992, and two years later formed the jazz quintet Straight Up. Trentacosta co-founded the Santa Fe Music Collective and is a music educator and radio host. Born and raised in Santa Fe, Loren Bienvenu is a former student of Trentacosta. He has also studied with Peter Erskine in Los Angeles, and performed with Chris Ishee, Brian Wingard, Jon Gagan and the Shiners Club Jazz Band.

“It’s very interesting to play with these guys because of my experience and their experience with playing in New Mexico,” said Heath. “I’m coming from the whole East Coast–style of playing so we have a nice blend of our different backgrounds in music.”

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