Taking a break from the fishing

“Cut it out; cut it out; you’ve got nothing to do tomorrow,» 80-year-old jazz musician Percy Heath, formerly of the celebrated Modern Jazz Quartet, objected mildly as he wove his way through tables of expectant fans while headed for the bar at the back of the room. The veteran, who has spent close to six decades recording and performing – much of it with the Modern Jazz Quartet – had good reason to shun the widespread calls for an encore or two. Heath, on double bass and occasionally finger-picked cello, had just spent over two hours – earnest and entertaining – performing the second show of a seven-night run at the Half Note Jazz Club in Athens last week with his sibling act, the Heath Brothers. With him were brothers Jimmy Heath on tenor sax, celebrating his 77th birthday on stage that night, and Al «Tootie» Heath, 68, on drums – both of whom also boast rich musical backgrounds – as well as the recently born, by comparison, yet precocious, Jeb Patton, 28, on piano. Sensing the man’s resolve for a well-earned rest, the audience’s demands for extra show time soon subsided. For Percy Heath, by then comfortably seated at the bar, even the mere thought of it appeared to be out of the question as he sniffed his glass of neither water nor any light form of alcohol, but brandy, sipped from it, and mingled with neighboring drinkers. «They’ve got nothing to do tomorrow,» he reiterated on the encore-callers, adding, «Now, I’m relaxed.» The Heath Brothers, who ended their one-week residency at the Half Note Jazz Club last Thursday, were the venue’s second act for the winter season. A far younger artist, Portuguese fado singer Mafalda Arnauth, who is currently taking her work abroad following sizable domestic popularity, is playing the venue through Thursday. Returning to the old boys: Percy Heath, a fighter pilot during World War II, pointed out that these days he restricts his musical commitments to the occasional performance with his brothers. The rest of the time, he said, he likes to go fishing. The Modern Jazz Quartet, originally formed as the rhythm section for Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra in 1946, before becoming a permanent group in 1952 – when Percy Heath joined – recorded and performed prolifically over two phases. The act’s first run ended in the mid-’70s before a reunion several years later took the band well into the ’90s. The quartet’s personnel played until it conked out – literally. «They’ve all left me here,» said the aging but spirited Percy Heath, who did not hesitate to work the bar’s surroundings. «Hey, there’s another blonde girl. Are you Greek, too?» he quipped at a charming lass nearby – she ended up being Croatian – no doubt referring to the hordes of local «peroxide blondes» witnessed on this trip. Percy Heath teamed up with his two brothers as the Heath Brothers in 1975 while the Modern Jazz Quartet was in what turned out to be a temporary hiatus. During this time, the siblings’ project released several lauded albums, and, in 1997, put out an aptly titled comeback album, «As We Were Saying.» It was followed by «Jazz Family» a year later. Though the Heath Brothers’ recorded work has focused mostly on hard bop, the Athens performance, not surprisingly, considering the age factor, was a gentle and breezy two-set show of jazzy R&B. As can be expected, the musical cohesion between the brothers sounded impeccable and the songs glided effortlessly. Their guest, pianist Jeb Patton, a student of Jimmy Heath’s at Queens College who joined the brothers for their «Jazz Family» album, proved a gifted non-family member in both his supporting and leading roles on the piano. While on the subject of youth, Arnauth, the Portuguese fado singer performing at the Half Note Jazz Club until Thursday, ranks as one of her country’s more traditional exponents of fado among the current crop of younger fado artists offering considerable international exposure to the pensive early 20th century musical form. Unlike many of her peers who have introduced both new instruments and moods to the style, the crystal-clear vocalist has opted for tradition, using the classic backing of guitar, Portuguese guitar and bass for renditions of seasoned and new material. Arnauth’s latest album, «Ecantamento,» the singer’s third, which she produced, was a top-10 entry in Portugal and is getting good reviews elsewhere. The act, already rated as one of the great modern «fadistas» at home, appears likely to spread her fame further.