Did You Know? Presenting, The Heartbeats
Dr. Cooley’s performances sometimes went beyond the operating theater. In the summer of 1965, for example, he and fellow cardiac surgeon Dr. Grady Hallman decided to form a band—a group of physician musicians who played stringed instruments—that they would fittingly name the “The Heart Strings.” Hallman, the band’s leader, had played trombone in The University of Texas (UT) Longhorn Band and euphonium in the UT Symphonic Band. Cooley, undeterred by the fact that he did not play an instrument, purchased a string bass for $35, took a few lessons, and learned how to play basic chords and keep time.
The band’s first few performances were mostly at parties for other medical colleagues. Their early formal appearances included the surgery department Christmas party, an alumni banquet for the medical fraternity Alpha Kappa Kappa, and an outdoor performance at the Cooley family’s Cool Acres Ranch during the annual surgery summer social. The band often played their theme song, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” and used humor to entertain the audience. Much to the band’s surprise, they quickly grew in popularity, and additional musicians, including non-physicians, wanted to join. As more brass instruments were added, the band decided to change their name to “The Heartbeats.”
Although physician members came and went through the natural course of moves and training programs, the band typically had 20 or more members who worked in the specialties of general surgery, anesthesiology, cardiology, obstetrics, gynecology, psychiatry, dentistry, plastic surgery, and urology. Their instruments were equally as diverse as their specialties, including drums, piano, trumpet, trombone, French horn, saxophone, tuba, electric bass, string bass, and guitar. The Heartbeats played for several charity benefits in and around Houston and traveled as far as New Orleans, Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. to perform.
In addition, to live performances, the Heartbeats recorded two albums (in 1968, Presenting, The Heartbeats and in 1972, The Heartbeats Again) and one cassette (with the American College of Cardiology). The profits were donated to charities such as the Houston Chapter of Mended Hearts, Inc. (a volunteer organization that supports patients with heart disease and their families), as well as to building initiatives at THI, St. Luke’s, and Texas Children’s Hospital.
In 1974, the band renamed itself the “Jazz Medics” to more accurately represent the diverse professions of its members. After Cooley’s death in 2017, the CBS network affiliate in Houston aired a piece about the Jazz Medics and The Heartbeats in which long-time band members were interviewed about the band and its transformation through the years. They remain a volunteer band, performing for groups in the Houston area.
[Images from the THI Archives: Album covers for The Heartbeats’ 1968 and 1972 records. Programs for 2 of their early gigs in Houston when they were still going by the Heart Strings and Baylor Brass.]