Percy Heath, MJQ (Berliner Jazz Tage, Oct. 28, 1983)


Uwe Rau


Percy Heath, MJQ (Berliner Jazz Tage, October 28, 1983), 1983

Gelatin Silver Print, 14 x 11”

Purchased with funding from the State of New York. Percent for Art Program, 2004

This photograph by Uwe Rau was taken at the Berliner Jazz Tage, also known as “Berlin Jazz Days”. “Berlin Jazz Days” was founded in 1964 and is one of the oldest European jazz festivals. In this image Rau captures a live performance. Percy Heath is playing the bass, and is looking away from the audience as he plays. Heath played the bass with The Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ), which was established in 1952. Their music was influenced by blues, classical, cool jazz and bebop. For most of its history, the Quartet consisted of John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath and Connie Kay. They wore tuxedos when they performed so that they could bring a certain amount of distinction and respect to the music, which made them stand out amongst other jazz groups. Percy Heath distinguished himself in WWII as one of the pioneering African-American fighter pilots in the Tuskegee Airmen. After the war, he studied at the Granoff School of Music and was soon after playing at Philly’s Downbeat Club. He moved to New York City in 1949, working with Gillespie’s band, before getting together with the MJQ. Heath’s music career lasted almost 57 years; he passed away two days before his 82nd birthday.

-Yesseña Whitfield