David "Fathead" Newman, the veteran saxophone player who performs tonight at Murphy's Place, is equally at home in jazz, blues, R&B, and gospel.
"I'm not one for these labels and titles that are put on music," Newman said from his home just north of New York City. "It's all music, and it's all interesting. It's wonderful to be able to go from one style to the other."
A native of Corsicana, Tex., the 66-year-old musician spent 10 yeasr in Ray Charles's band, from 1950 to 1959, before heading out on his own and working with such well-known artists as Aretha Franklin, Herbie Mann, Natalie Cole, Hank Crawford, Dr. John, and Art Blakey.
"Playing with Ray was a great experience," Newman enthused. "I learned so much and it was such a pleasure being around such an interesting and talented musician as Ray Charles."
As a child, his parents introduced him to music by jazz artists such as Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and Duke Ellington.
"And of course, there was the blues background," Newman said. The blues were very prevalent. T-Bone Walker and Lowell Fulson were form the Dallas, Tex., area, and you were just surrounded by the blues. It was all so natural."
Although he preferred jazz, Newman said learning other musical styles was a necessity.
I loved the bebop jazz of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, but during my younger years bebop wasn't accepted by a majority of the people," he said. "You couldn't make a living playing just bebop. You had to play some blues or some swing."
Newman also learned to play a variety of instruments, developing his soulful jazz touch on tenor alto, and soprano saxophones and flute.
His latest recording, "Chillin'," on the High Note label, features a sextet performing a mix of jazz standards and originals.
Newman siad he received his distinctive nickname at a high school band rehearsal when he was just learning to read music.
"I had memorized the music and the sheet musica was upside down on the music stand," he said. "My teacher saw that and said, 'Never mind, upside down!' He hit me on the head and said, 'You're a fathead! You're supposed to read the music, not memorize it!'
"And my classmates started calling me that. By now it's a trademark. I don't find it offensive at all."
Newman's sense of humor is evident in the title of his recent compilation disc released on the 32 Jazz label: "It's 'Mister' Fathead!"
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