David 'Fathead' Newman
"I Remember Brother Ray"

Posted on Fri, Apr. 08, 2005

'Fathead' gets a boost from 'Brother Ray'

The Charles connection brings more gigs for David Newman

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Even from the grave, Ray Charles continues to have an impact on David "Fathead" Newman's life.

Newman, the thick-toned tenor sax man, played in Charles' band from 1954 to 1964. In 1958, Charles used his cache to introduce Newman as a leader on the album "Fathead: Ray Charles presents David 'Fathead' Newman," on which Charles played piano.

After Newman left Charles' band, the two remained close friends until Charles death last June.

Now the ripples created by "Ray," the award-winning bio-pic that has turned actor Jamie Foxx into a Hollywood star, have fanned out to buoy Newman's career.

He's getting more gigs and more interest from concert promoters. "I Remember Brother Ray" - Newman's CD of instrumental versions of Charles' songs that was recorded a few months after Charles' death - reached No.1 on the JazzWeek chart. The record includes "Hit the Road Jack," "Deed I Do" and "Georgia On My Mind." It's currently No. 2, behind the Joey DeFrancesco/Jimmy Smith collaboration, "Legacy."

Newman, 72, appears April 15 at the Cape May Jazz Festival in New Jersey, which is honoring Charles. Also making festival appearances are Nicholas Payton and Sonic Trance, Monty Alexander, Stefon Harris, Cintron, Sean Jones and the Budesa Brothers featuring Michal Beckham.

Newman's association with Charles has been a crucial part of his resume, but stepping out from Charles' bigger-than-life shadow hasn't been easy.

"It hasn't harmed me, but in some cases it sort of hindered me," Newman said by phone from his home in Woodstock, N.Y. "It's hard to get completely away from the Ray Charles connection." Many promoters and listeners think Newman is only about playing music Charles popularized.

"All [the] musicians that know me know different," said Newman, who was raised in Dallas. "I've always been a straight-ahead jazz player." Because of his association with Charles, some critics label him a "rhythm-and-blues player and soul player instead of the straight-ahead player," Newman said.

Newman kept the bills paid by playing in a variety of genres. He's on recordings by the Average White Band, B.B. King, Linda Ronstadt, Joe Cocker, Solomon Burke, Aretha Franklin, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Donny Hathaway and Natalie Cole. But his discography is filled with jazz dates with Herbie Mann, Hank Crawford, "Little" Jimmy Scott, Jimmy McGriff, Roy Hargrove and Shirley Scott, to name a few.

"It's helped me to wear more than one hat and play in the different idioms," Newman said. No doubt his tone - the deep, wide-open sound of a "Texas tenor" - made him popular choice for R&B, pop and jazz artists.

"That's something I worked on through the years and continue to work on," Newman said. "I pride myself on having a nice, wonderful, big, warm sound. I tried to work on having an identifiable sound. I like the idea of people when they hear my music they [can] say, 'That's David "Fathead" Newman playing.' "

In the movie, Foxx did "an incredible job" as Ray, Newman said. Actor Bokeem Woodbine portrayed Newman.

"I thought he did a wonderful job," Newman said, adding, "He played the Fathead character as it was cast and [as he] was told to do... it wasn't exactly accurate."

David Ritz, who co-authored Charles' autobiography, "Brother Ray," noted several instances in which the film misrepresents Charles' life, including his relationship with Newman.

"In 'Ray,' [Newman] is portrayed as little more than a loudmouthed junkie," Ritz wrote for Slate, an on-line magazine. "While drugs were part of the bond between David and Ray, the key to their relationship was an extraordinary musical rapport. In real life, David is a soft-spoken, gentle man of few words. As Ray was boisterous, David was shy. Like Lester Young/Billie Holiday or Thelonious Monk/Charlie Rouse, they complemented each other in exquisitely sensitive fashion. We neither see nor hear any of this in 'Ray.' "

In Hollywood, a drug connection is more important than a musical connection.

"I was bothered by it. I understand that's what sells movies," Newman said. "I could've done with more music and less sex and drugs. I actually would have liked to have seen more of Ray Charles and what he brought to the table."

23rd Cape May Jazz Festival, April 15-17. Ray Charles Tribute, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. April 15. $49 for a daily eight-event pass, $130 24-event weekend pass. Information, 877-726-5299 or www.capemayjazz.org.

The Philadelphia Daily News © 2005

As posted at http://www.miami.com/mld/philly/entertainment/nightlife/11341558.htm

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