lean times for Fathead
Al Hunter Jr.
David 'Fathead' Newman's new CD is called "Chillin'" (High Note), the kind of title you might expect from a "smooth jazz" whippersnapper, not a 66-year-old veteran. Newman, with his gritty Texas-tenor sound, made his name with the Ray Charles band in the 1950s, then went out on his own, where his style of hard bop and soul jazz landed him on such labels as Atlantic, Prestige, Warner Brothers and Muse.
Do you and Ray keep in touch?
Yes, we stay in touch. I just did a date with him this summer in southern France. We also had a reunion in Grant Park in Chicago in the early spring of last year. That was a reunion of all the guys that worked when Ray had his small band - Hank Crawford, Phil Guilbeau. He gives me a call when he comes to town [New York]. I don't hear as much from him now as I did when I was living in the Village. [Newman has lived in the Catskill Mountains since 1993.]
You seem to have withstood trends, and that period in the '70s when you did some pop-funk stuff on Atlantic.
That was the work of producers. That wasn't my decision at all. That was in the days when I wasn't allowed to make decisions as far as my recordings go. Nowadays, I'm more involved. I insist on being involved. I try to produce myself as much as possible and have been doing that for the last five years. [Tenor saxophonist] Houston Person co-produced with me on this one. My son [singer Cadino Newman, 30] is making his debut. He sings two tunes on the end there.
You work a lot with vibe players - Cal Tjader, Roy Ayers. On this CD, you have Bryan Carrott. What does a vibe player do for you?
I've been using vibes for the past 10 years or better. I like the warmth of them. And [a vibraphone] has a special sound effect that you get, a warm, mellow-like sound.
High Note seems to be pulling in some good artists.
They're starting to get some very good artists, which is a plus. There are so many labels out there, but the main thing is getting with a label that will support and back up the artists that they're producing. It's hard to get huge record labels to promote you after they get the release.
How busy are you now?
I'm trying to keep in check physically, stay active, stay healthy. I'm 66 and I try to hang in there and be as active musically as I possible can. I miss out on a few club dates and mostly play festivals or concerts, unless I can get a non-smoking venue. I had surgery [10 years ago to remove his Adam's apple], so I can't be around smoke.
TENOR of the TIMES
"Call him 'Fathead' if you want, but some call David Newman a pioneer"
The Dallas Morning News