Heath, an NEA Jazz Master himself who turns 90 this year, grew up in Philadelphia in a musically talented family. His father played the clarinet, his mother sang and his three brothers played bass, violin and drums.
“It’s a family affair,” Heath said.
He moved to Corona in 1964. The Queens neighborhood is famous for being the home of music legends like Armstrong, whose house is now a museum.
Heath has been playing the saxophone since he was a teenager, and one of his favorite memories was going to Paris in 1948 to play at the age of 21. It was his first time on an airplane.
“Paris was beautiful,” he said. “Since then, I’ve been to Japan, China, Australia and all around the world to play music.
“Music is life and life is music,” he added. “You know what the world would be without music? It would be empty.”
On June 10 at Flushing Town Hall, Heath is headlining a tribute concert called “Dizzy Revisited,” which pays homage to the jazz legend. Not only did Heath know Gillespie, but he also considered him his mentor.
“He had a great sense of humor, but he was an extremely dedicated musician,” Heath said about his friend. “He was a genius at what he did.”
Heath said he’s played at Flushing Town Hall twice a year for more than 15 years, and said he is looking forward to playing there again.
“I think we always have a good time, it’s a good venue,” he said. “We have the big band and we’re going to play some happy music.”