James Edward Heath Way

James Edward Heath (1926 – 2020) was a jazz legend who raised his family in the historic Dorie Miller co-ops in Corona and taught at Queens College.

James “Jimmy” Heath was born in Philadelphia to Percy Heath Sr. and Arlethia Heath. He attended Walter George Smith School in South Philadelphia and graduated from Williston Industrial School in Wilmington, N.C., in 1943. His father was an auto mechanic who played the clarinet, performing on the weekends, and his mother sang in a church choir. His sister Elizabeth played piano; his older brother Percy Jr. played violin and bass; and his younger brother Albert “Tootie” Heath played the drums. As a teenager, Heath took music lessons and played alto saxophone in the high school marching band. He also played in a jazz band called the Melody Barons and toured with the Calvin Todd Band in 1945, before joining a dance band in Omaha, Nebraska led by Nat Towles. Small in stature (standing 5'3"), he was unable to serve during World War II, because he was under the weight limit. In 1946, he formed his own band, which was a fixture on the Philadelphia jazz scene until 1949. Heath's earliest big band (1947-1948) in Philadelphia included John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Ray Bryant, Specs Wright, Cal Massey, Johnny Coles, and Nelson Boyd. Charlie Parker and Max Roach sat in on occasion. In 1959, Heath briefly joined Miles Davis's group, replacing John Coltrane, and also worked with Kenny Dorham and Gil Evans. Heath recorded extensively as leader and sideman. During the 1960s, he frequently worked with Milt Jackson and Art Farmer. The biological father of R&B songwriter/musician James “Mtume” Forman, Heath met his eventual wife, Mona Brown, whom he married in 1960; they had two children, Roslyn and Jeffrey.

In the early 1960s, encouraged by friends Clark Terry and the Adderley brothers, the Heaths purchased an apartment in the Dorie Miller Cooperative Housing in Corona, where the Adderleys and Terry also lived. In 1987, Heath became a professor of music at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. There, he premiered his first symphonic work, "Three Ears," with Maurice Peress conducting. In 2010, his autobiography, "I Walked With Giants," was published; it was voted Best Book of The Year by the Jazz Journalist Association. He recorded three big band records -- "Little Man Big Band," produced by Bill Cosby, "Turn Up The Heath" and "Togetherness Live at the Blue Note." Heath received a Life Achievement Award from the Jazz Foundation of America and the 2003 American Jazz Master Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. He was nominated for three Grammy Awards and has received three honorary doctorate degrees. He was also the first jazz musician to receive an honorary doctorate in music from the Juilliard School.


Gil Tauber, "NYC Honorary Street Names," accessed June 15, 2022, http://www.nycstreets.info/

Bill Parry, "Corona jazz icon Jimmy Heath honored with street co-naming in his old neighborhood," QNS, May 26, 2022, https://qns.com/2022/05/corona-jazz-icon-jimmy-heath-street-co-naming/