Jimmy Heath, the saxophonist, composer and arranger who launched the jazz studies program at Queens College in the early 1990s and then went on to form the unique Queens Jazz Orchestra, died Sunday at age 93.
Heath, who was named a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master in 2003, was among a handful of jazz musicians who came up in the early years of Be-Bop and was still performing in his nineties.
The two concerts a year he headlined at Flushing Town Hall were always sold out weeks in advance. The Queens Jazz Orchestra was a band Heath put together from old friends and accomplished musicians who got together just one night a year to play at the historic theater on Northern Boulevard.
“An astounding musician, composer, and educator, he has touched the lives of so many, leaving behind an incomparable legacy,” Ellen Kodadek, artistic director at Flushing Town Hall, said in a statement.
“We are so grateful that Dr. Heath had performed so many concerts at Flushing Town Hall over the years, gracing our stage with his genius and joyful presence, whether it be at our annual NEA Jazz Masters concert or our Queens Jazz Orchestra, a project he conceived of and led for 12 years.
“There are insufficient words to express our condolences to his wife Mona Heath and family, friends, and students.”
In poor health for the last year, he died at his daughter’s home outside Atlanta.
Trained in Dizzy Gillespie’s band, Heath played with Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly and Chet Baker.
Heath raised his family in the historic Dorie Miller co-op apartments in Corona, the first racially integrated co-op in New York, where he’d lived since the 1960s.
“Adam Clayton Powell built it because Fred Trump wouldn’t let black people stay in his apartments,” Heath told the Chronicle last year.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.