A product of one of jazz's most illustrious families, Percy Heath and his sublime, swinging bass served as the cornerstone of the Modern Jazz Quartet for over four decades. Heath was born in Wilmington, NC, on April 23, 1930. The second of four children, he was raised in Philadelphia, receiving his first instrument, a violin, at the age of eight. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944, and assigned to fly P-4s and P-47s as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. Heath managed to avoid combat, and after World War II ended, he purchased a standup bass and enrolled in Philadelphia's Granoff School of Music. After a stint behind pianist Red Garland, he signed on with the house band at the local Down Beat Club. There he met bebop trumpeter Howard McGhee, and by 1947, Heath and his saxophonist brother Jimmy were touring as members of McGhee's sextet, appearing the following year at the premiere Festival International de Jazz in Paris. The Heath brothers relocated to New York City in 1949, and there Percy collaborated with a who's who of postwar jazz icons including Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Sonny Rollins. From 1950 to 1952, he and Jimmy reunited as members of Dizzy Gillespie's sextet.