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Jazz Great Jimmy Heath Among Queens Voices in Oscar-Nominated Animated Film

By DNAinfo Staff on February 21, 2012 9:27am

Jimmy Heath plays the saxophone during recording of the Oscar-nominated animated film
Jimmy Heath plays the saxophone during recording of the Oscar-nominated animated film "Chico & Rita."
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FLUSHING — Jazz patriarch  Jimmy Heath has played at the White House, on "The Cosby Show" and with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis.

But the accomplished saxophonist hopes to mark a career first on Sunday night when the animated movie "Chico & Rita," for which he recorded melodies, competes for an Oscar.

"I'm very anxious," Heath, 85, told DNAinfo. "This would be my first time. If I'm mentioned, I love it. Just to have your name on the screen, as part of the music, would be wonderful."

Heath, who lives in Corona, isn't the only Queens musician fretting about the fate of "Chico & Rita." The film, which tells the story of a piano player who falls in love with a singer, features recordings by several musicians with links to Queens College in Flushing, where Heath once taught and where he helped create the jazz program.

The college's unusually strong connection to an Academy Award-nominated film began with its Professor Michael Mossman, who plays the trumpet and trombone. Mossman had previously worked on other films with "Chico & Rita" director Fernando Trueba, and he accepted the offer to play jazz in the movie.

Mossman helped bring on Heath, a professor emeritus, and saxophonist Antonio Hart, who teaches jazz studies at the college.

While the film's title characters are fictional, they interact with animated versions of jazz legends in the movie. Mossman, Hart and Heath performed with many of the musicians whose music is featured, such as Dizzy Gillespie, a famous bandleader and trumpeter who once lived in Corona.

"These are not just characters, these are our friends," Mossman said. "We don't see the music as names and dates. We see it as the stories of people we knew."

"Chico & Rita" faces stiff competition in the animated feature film category. It goes head-to-head with the French film "A Cat in Paris," the Jack Black sequel "Kung Fu Panda 2," the Shrek spin-off "Puss in Boots" and the Johnny Depp chameleon adventure "Rango."

Win or lose, Hart said he appreciated the opportunity to work with other faculty on a movie that New York Times critic A.O. Scott heralded for being "sexy, sweet and laced with a sadness at once specific to its place and time and accessible to anyone with a breakable heart."

"I was just trying to breathe life into Michael Mossman's vision," Hart said. "I'm honored that he thought about me when he put the band together."

Hart said he hadn't truly soaked in the enormity of being part of an Academy Award-nominated project until a reporter asked him about it.

"I never really thought about it," he said with a smile. "It's a major deal."