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Review: Al "Tootie" Heath Trio June 10, 2022, Concert at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington by Larry Reni Thomas
(Published: June 21, 2022)


The Al "Tootie" Heath Trio, which consisted of pianist Emmett Cohen, bassist Russell Hall, and Heath on drums, performed to a full house at Kenan Auditorium, June 10, 2022, on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Wilmington, North Carolina. It was a joyous special occasion because Wilmington is the birthplace of his father, Percy Heath, Sr. Tootie had previously performed as a member of Heath Brothers, in Wilmington at Kenan Auditorium in 1984, with his brothers, the late bassist Percy Heath, Jr., and the late reedman/composer Jimmy Heath. But this night was the drummer and his trio's time to shine. Without a doubt they did just that!

The trio started the set with an exciting interpretation of "Django" a composition written by the late John Lewis, pianist, and a long-time member of The Modern Jazz Quartet. Cohen displayed serious chops and Hall provided a fine bowed solo on bass the audience loudly applauded after he finished. Heath, 87-yeard-old, held it all together with tempo and timing that betrayed his age. He said so after the tune. Heath said that both of his band members were in their 30s and that they were very gifted musicians who made him play the drums like he was as young they were. His playing was remarkable because years ago, Tootie had suffered a heart attack and stroke. He performed as if those illnesses had never happened.

Throughout the concert, the crowd seemed in awe, and they showed their sincere appreciation by giving the group loud and sustained approval. The trio also did a superb job on slow pieces like "Embraceable You," "Round Midnight" and "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." The tunes were all smooth, sosphticated readings of standards and were perfect selections to slow down the pace. The tunes left the audience in a peaceful mood and were appropriate for a mostly high energy concert.

The highlight of the evening was the last one, the trio's performance of "Off Minor," a Thelonious Monk composition that featured solid playing and solos from pianist Cohen, and a firm, steady foundation from bassist Hall. But it was Tootie's extended solo on the drums that resonated throughout the auditorium. He was smiling and looked like a kid in a candy store. One would have thought that he had forgotten how old he was and that it was his time to shine. Indeed, Heath did that night. When he finished, he had to be helped to get from behind the drum set by Cohen and Hall. The two bandmates led him to the center of the stage where the trio bowed to a standing ovation. What an evening! No doubt, his father and mother and his brothers would have been proud of their "baby son" and "baby brother." Wilmington, North Carolina looks forward to him coming back again real soon!

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