The Heath Brothers – 1975 – Marchin’ On

The Heath Brothers Marchin' On! front

An extremely rare LP. Check prices here

The Heath Brothers was an American jazz group, formed in 1975 by the brothers Jimmy on tenor saxophone, Percy on bass, and Albert “Tootie” Heath bringing up the rear on the drums as well as pianist Stanley Cowell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tony Purrone on lead guitar and Jimmy’s son Mtume (Of “Juicy Fruit” fame) on percussion joined the group later.

This is the Heath Brothers’ only album for the Strata East label, and man, is it a tough one to find…borderline Holy Grail.

A1 Warm Valley 2:29
A2 Tafadhali 3:54
A3 The Watergate Blues 5:54
A4 Maimoun 8:02
B1 Smilin’ Billy Suite Part I 6:04
B2 Smilin’ Billy Suite Part II 4:23
B3 Smilin’ Billy Suite Part III 3:28
B4 Smilin’ Billy Suite Part IV 4:35

The Heath Brothers Marchin' On! back

If you only listened to the A-side of this album, you’d find it to be a pleasant, straight-ahead jazz LP, with the warm flute of Jimmy Heath, rich bassline strumming of Percy Heath and labelmate Stanley Cowell cameoing on piano and mbira. “Maimoun” is just a gorgeous, mellow song closing out the first side and their cover of “Watergate Blues” isn’t bad either.

But flip the record over and add on the four part “Smilin’ Billy Suite” and you have the makings of one of Strata-East’s greatest albums. Sure, it helps that Q-Tip sampled “Suite II” for Nas’  Hip- Hop classic “One Love”, thereby introducing the album to the rest of the world… But like Monty Alexander’s “Love and Happiness” (get to that nugget later on…I promise.), the sum of the song is far greater than the sample. By this point in time and thanks to the internets, most folks have heard “Suite II” in some form, fashion or another – Hell…Redman swiped an entire 16 bars of the song on “Supaman Lova Pt. 3”. Catch up.

Cowell’s use of the mbira thumb piano on this tune is just mind blowingly fantastic, giving the whole song a different vibe from the traditional jazz instrumentation.

As a fan of all things Bass, it’s always surprised me how little love “Suite I” receives. While almost all the suites use the same basic melodic riff as a common anchor, “Suite I” focuses mostly on Percy Heath’s basslines before his brother Jimmy’s relaxed flute drifts in. “Suite III” is also pretty solid – much more dramatic and dissonant, largely thanks to Albert Heath’s playing of an African double reed woodwind. “Suite IV” brings back the major refrain once more, this time on sax, with a lighter, more upbeat feel than the previous three Suites. All in all, an undeniable masterpiece of the soul jazz era and one of the most sought after samples in the history of hip hop. The heath brothers went on to record 8 more (in my opinion) amazing albums before Percy Heath passed away in 2004.

Drop some cash, buy this album here.