J. C. Heard

James Charles Heard (August 10, 1917 – September 27, 1988), known as J. C. Heard, was an American swing, bop, and blues drummer.

J.C. Heard
A fanclub poster.
Background information
Birth nameJames Charles Heard
Born(1917-08-10)August 10, 1917
Dayton, Ohio, United States
DiedSeptember 27, 1988(1988-09-27) (aged 71)
Royal Oak, Michigan, United States
GenresBebop, Swing, Blues
Years active1939-1980s


Heard was born in Dayton, Ohio and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. As a young child he performed as a tap dancer in amateur contests and vaudeville shows.[1] Heard began to switch his focus to drumming around age 11.[2] He started out teaching himself to play, then took lessons as a student at Cass Technical High School. His parents supported his interest, and brought him to see major performers who toured to Detroit's famous music venues. He would later describe seeing Chick Webb play in 1937 as a formative experience.[1]

Heard became a protege of the drummer Jo Jones, and through him would meet and sit in with Count Basie.[1] With Jones's help, Heard got his first professional job with Teddy Wilson's band in 1939.[2] They played the Golden Gate Ballroom in Harlem and the Roseland Ballroom, and recorded for Columbia Records.[1] After the Wilson band's breakup, he went on to perform in bands led by Benny Carter, Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, and Dizzy Gillespie.[3] He also performed at major jazz festivals, and played alongside Roy Eldridge and Charlier Parker.[2]

Heard's style was a hybrid of swing and bop.[4] He was known for his innovative techniques and the hard swing he would bring to both large and small bands.[1] He recorded with Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Lena Horne, and Sarah Vaughan.[2][1] He also led his own bands, including a quintet that played at Cafe Society and a trio with Erroll Garner and Oscar Pettiford.[1] Heard performed as a featured member of Cab Calloway's band from 1942-1945.[1] As a member of the Calloway band, he appeared in several Hollywood films, including Stormy Weather.[2]

Heard toured with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic in the 1950s.[3] After a successful engagement in Japan in 1953, he stayed there for to perform and teach for several years.[1] He was a mentor to young Japanese musicians like Yukimura Izumi, George Kawaguchi and Franky Sakai. He also met and married his wife Hiroko while living there.[3]

After returning to New York in 1957, Heard played with the Coleman Hawkins-Roy Eldridge Quintet and with Teddy Wilson's trio. In 1966 he moved to Detroit where he was influential as a bandleader and a mentor to younger musicians.[5] In 1983, he again recorded an album as leader, accompanied by saxophonist George Benson, pianist Claude Black, and Dave Young on bass. In 1981, Heard started a 13 piece big band which played around the state and at festivals, often featuring Dizzy Gillespie and other colleagues. This group recorded in 1986 and continued performing regularly until his death.[3]

Heard died of a heart attack at the age of 71 in Royal Oak, Michigan.[3] His legacy is honored with a yearly jazz drumming competition held as part of the Detroit Jazz Festival.[6]


As leader/co-leader
  • 1958: This is Me, J. C. Heard (Argo)
  • 1983: The Detroit Jazz Tradition - Alive & Well (Parkwood)
  • 1986: Some of This, Some of That! - JC Heard Orchestra
  • 1988: Mr. B. with J.C. Heard - Partners in Time - with George Benson (Blind Pig Records)
As sideman

With Gene Ammons

With Shorty Baker and Doc Cheatham

With Benny Carter

With Arnett Cobb

With Roy Eldridge

With Bud Freeman

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Johnny Hodges

With Claude Hopkins

With Howard McGhee

With Al Sears

With John Wright

With Lester Young


  1. Korall, Burt (2004-07-29). Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz, The Swing Years. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195346510.
  2. Spagnardi, Ron (1992). The Great Jazz Drummers. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 9780793515264.
  3. "J.C. Heard Dies at 71; Long a Jazz Drummer". The New York Times. 1988-09-30. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-12-15.
  4. "James Charles ("J. C.") Heard". The Black Perspective in Music. 16 (2): 246–246. 1988. JSTOR 1214830.
  5. FOLKART, BURT A. (1988-09-29). "Jerome Charles (J.C.) Heard, 71; Jazz Drummer and Bandleader". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-12-15.
  6. Yohn, Linda. "Detroit Jazz Festival Mentors And Honors Next Jazz Generation". Retrieved 2017-12-15.
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