As both a musician and man, David Newman expressed exxtreme elegance. His manner was understated. He was an unusually handsome man who carried himself with dignity and grace. He walked through the world with quiet confidence. His spoken voice, like his musical voice, was warm and loving. His tender soul was evident in everything he said and played.
In jazz's hard-edged culture, gentlement are rare. David was the very model of a gentle man. By the time he had reached his late twenties, he had risen to the rank of a musical master, yet never with the slightest hint of self-congratulatory conceit. For all his humility, his storied six-decade career is a model of deep and enduring work.
His mentors spoke readily of his prodigious talent.
"I heard him as more than a sideman," said Lowell Fulson, the great bluesman with whom Newman played in the early fifties. "I heard him as a star in his own right."
Fulson's piano player, Ray Charles, hired David when he began a small band of his own in 1954. "He has one of the kindest, sweetest dispositions of anyone I'd ever known," Said Ray. "They called him 'Fathead' but I called him 'Brains' because of his keen intelligence. He had it all covered—down-and-dirty blues and high-flying bop. And he put it together with a smoothness that had me wishing I could blow sax half as good as him."
"David belongs in the highest category," said flautist Herbie Mann, another close associate. "When you speak of the immortal saxophonists of the post-war era—Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turrentine, Stan Getz—David stands shoulder-to-shoulder with all of them. To develop a unique voice on a reed instrument is no easy task, and David's voice was absolutely his own. Whether on alto, tenor or flute, his sound was silky-smooth, lyrical and filled with wit and surprise."
In the winter of 2004, at age 71, David had never sounded better, as demonstrated by his sterling set recorded at Cory Weeds' Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver. David's wife Karen remembers it as an especially happy time.
"It was always a joy to visit our new-found family in Canada," she says. "Despite the cold, there was warm appreciation for David everywhere we traveled, especially at the Cellar where David recorded with three talented musicians. The room was packed with already familiar faces eager to hear his velvet sound. The club was always full of loving vibes. In David's playing, you can hear his excitement and eagerness to return that love."
The set is especially balanced and satisfying from the brilliance of David's original compositions ("The Cookie," and "The Gift") to his signature blues lament ("Hard Times") to classic bop (Hank Mobley's "This I Dig Of You" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia") to a haunting ballad (Duke Pearson's "Cristo Redentor.")
The steady support of Tilden Webb's superb trio brings out the best of one of the American's premier jazzman. As you listen to David dance through the changes on this freezing night in Canada, you realize that certain artists improve with age. "Ripeness is all," Shakespeare wrote in King Lear.
David Newman realized a ripeness—a gorgeous maturity of tone, invention and pure poetry that will endure forever.