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John Heard

Bassist, Prolific Recording Artist, and Visual Artist
John Heard is a versatile jazz double bassist and visual artist whose music has been heard on over 180 records and on concert, festival, and club stages around the world. He has recorded and performed with a variety of swing, bebop, traditional, Latin jazz and funk jazz artists over a fifty year career. Heard appeared on 14 Count Basie albums, six Louie Bellson recordings, five discs from with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, five recordings by Kenny Burrell, three with Oscar Peterson, three with George Duke, and two with Cal Tjader. Heard has also worked with Ella Fitzgerald, Ahmad Jamal, Benny Carter, Al Jarreau, West Montgomery, Freddy Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Dexter Gordon, Tete Montoliu, Sonny Stitt and many other jazz greats. He appeared with Count Basie in the 1979 film “The Last of the Blue Devils”. Heard recorded two albums as a leader: “Back to Back” and “The Jazz Composer's Songbook”.

John Heard is also a talented painter and sculptor.  Trained in painting at the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Pittsburgh Art Institute, John sketched and painted as hobby during his years touring and recording.  Guitar Player magazine published John’s sketches of six legendary guitar players in 1974.  John’s sketch of Duke Ellington was used as the cover of the 1974 Monterey Jazz Festival program. John began sculpting in 1985.  He retired from the music business in 1988 to pursue painting and sculpting full time.  During his four year hiatus from music he was recognized for his abstract works and his portraits and sketches of Ella Fitzgerald, Cout Basie, Lester Young, Zoot Sims, Frank Rosolino, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, and Jimmy Blanton.  He sculptures included busts of Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, and Louis Armstrong.   

John Heard returned to jazz in the 1990s recording and performing with Gary Foster, Benny Carter, Ahmad Jamal, Mel Martin, and his own ensemble.  He appeared most Friday and Saturday nights at legendary Charlie O’s club in Los Angeles from 2000 to 2011.

Growing Up with Jazz and the Arts in Pittsburgh

John Heard was born on July 3, 1938 in Pittsburgh, Pa.   He grew up in the Manchester neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s North Side in the big band swing era of the 1940s and BeBop of the 1950s.  His family exposed him to jazz and blues as a child.  Heard’s mother took him the Norman Gantz Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts at the Syria Mosque where he saw Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, bassist Ray Brown and many other jazz greats.  One of his older sisters played him the music of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith from her blues collection.  Another sister turned him on to the Be Bop of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Heard also gained an early interest in the arts on school field trips to concerts by the Pittsburgh Symphony, art at the Carnegie Museum and plays at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.  In an interview he once described Pittsburgh as having "the mentality of a coal miner with culture." 

Attending the Pittsburgh Public Schools John Heard learned both music and art.  He studied alto and baritone sax in grade school.  Wanting to perform in the school orchestra he switched to standup double bass at age 14.  Heard was self taught on the bass.  To learn he played along to records featuring his bass heroes Charles Mingus, Percy Heath, and Pittsburghers Ray Brown, Paul Chambers and Eddie Safranski.  At age 15 Heard joined a band led by 13 year old trombonist Nelson Harrison called the "Beethoven BeBops".  The 7-piece jazz/dance band also included guitarist Jerry Byrd, pianist Richard Gaither, tenor saxophonist George Green and drummers Roscoe Vire and Allen Blairman.  Heard attended Allegheny High School where played in a school show with pianist Maxine Brown, drummer Jeremiah Cox on drums, and James Humphries on bongos.  John was also a gifted art student who was selected to attend classes at the Carnegie Music of Art. 

John Heard began playing bass professionally at age sixteen around 1954 in a band led by trumpeter Tommy Turrentine with pianist Horace Parlan, saxophonist Booker Ervin and drummer J.C. Moses.  Rahsaan Roland Kirk moved to Pittsburgh to join the band.   John Heard graduated from Allegheny High School in June of 1957.  

Air Force Artist

Heard joined the Air Force in 1958. He was stationed in Germany where he worked as a graphic artist designing posters and signs for special events.  To earn extra money he taught art classes to officer’s wives.  He taught them how to paint mountain scenes using a pallet knife.  On weekends he continued his music pursuits playing dates at officer’s clubs.

Johnny Wright's Quintet

After his discharge from the Air Force in 1962 John Heard returned to Pittsburgh.  Using his G.I. Bill grant he studied art at the Pittsburgh Art Institute for a short period.  Heard then took at job vulcanizing tires, but quit that to pursue music.  In 1963 he was a member of John Wright's Quintet with Johnny Wright on sax, Chuck Austin on trumpet, Roger Humphries on drums and Fred Tooks on piano.   They performed “cool Jazz” nightly at the Crawford Grill and did out of town engagements at Baker's Jazz Corner in Cincinnati.  

Buffalo and Jon Henricks
Heard next found work performing with a pianist in Buffalo, New York.   During 1965 in Buffalo he met scat singer Jon Henricks who needed a bass player for his band.  His eight month tour with Hendricks ended in San Francisco in 1966, where John decided to stay.  

Duking it Out in San Fran

In San Francisco John Heard joined the band at the Half-Note Club playing with singer/social worker Al Jarreau and pianist George Duke who had just graduated from high school.  The Half Note located near the Fillmore District was just four blocks from the center of hippy-dome the corner of Haight and Asbury.   Music was flourishing in the late 1960s in San Francisco with the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Three Dog Night, John Handy, and Cal Tjader.  Heard made his first recording with the George Duke Quartet in 1966 at San Francisco’s famed Jazz Workshop club.   During 1967 Heard worked with Wes Montgomery, Sonny Rollins, and Randy Weston.   He appeared on Richard Boone’s 1968 album “I’ve Got A Right To Sing”.   Heard continued to live in San Francisco through 1968.

L.A. Session Player

Wanting to get away from the hard-core drug scene in San Francisco Heard and his wife Carolyn relocated to Los Angeles in 1969.  There he first worked with Shelly Manne.  He recorded three albums with Jon-Luc Ponty in 1969 including “Live at Donte’s”, “Canteloupe Island”, and “Experience”.  Live at  was recorded at Donte's Jazz Club  in March of 1969 with George Duke on piano, John Heard on bass, and Al Cecchi  on drums.   “The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience With The George Duke Trio” album was recorded on September 27, 1969 with drummer Dick Berk as the Three Experience Club.  The club was packed with Frank Zappa, Quincy Jones, Gerald Wilson and Cannonball Adderley in attendance.  John Heard also appeared on George Duke’s 1969 “Save the Country” album.

John Heard worked with Latin jazz artist Cal Tjader in 1972 touring and appearing on his “Descarga” and “Tambu”.   Pittsburgh born pianist Ahmad Jamal was impressed with John Heard’s playing seeing him perform with Tjader at New York’s Village Gate.  Jamal hired Heard for a tour in 1972 and appearances in 1994.  Heard began working with guitarist Kenny Burrell in 1974 appearing on his "Stormy Weather" release and his "Moon and Sand" release in 1979.

Basie Bassist

John Heard became a member of the Count Basie Orchestra in 1974 touring with them through November of 1976.  John Heard continued to work with Count Basie on several recordings during the 1970s and early 1980s including the Basie and Oscar Peterson collaborations “Time Keepers”, “Night Rider”, and “Yes Sir”.  Heard's work with Basie led to his tours and recordings with Basie’s drummer Louie Bellson and Oscar Peterson.  

In the 1980s before his fine arts retirement Heard recorded with Zoot Sims, Tete Montoliu, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Art Pepper, Joe Williams, Clark Terry, Pharoah Sanders and others.

Solo Recordings

Heard recorded his first solo project as a leader “Back to Back” in 1983 on the small  ITJ label.   He was joined by Sherman Ferguson and Tom Rainer on a selection of classic songs from Count Basie, Ellington / Strayhorn and others.   John second solo record, the two disc CD ‘The Jazz Composer’s Songbook” was released on Straight Ahead Records in 2005.  Produced by Stewart Levine and Bernie Grundman it featured newcomers pianist Danny Grissett and drummer Lorca Hart along with veterans saxist Herman Riley and trumpeter Nolan Shaheed.  The album include two Horace Silver songs, “Doodlin’” and “Soulsville”, Sonny Rollins’ “Valse Hot”,  Wayne Shorter’s “Lester Left Town” and Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty.
John Heard Recordings
The Beethoven BeBops led by Nelson Harrison
John Heard with Ahmad Jamal
John Heard with Gene Harris

John Heard with Count Basie
Jazz Composer's Song Book -Artwork by John Heard
Nelson Harrison and John Heard Meet Again