24, 1933 - January 20, 2009
"Fathead" Newman, legendary saxophonist/flutist and composer who was
a prominent member of the Ray Charles band in the fifties and the sixties and
a renowned bandleader in his own right thereafter, passed away on January 20,
2009 in upstate New York, succumbing to the pancreatic cancer that he heroically
battled for the past year. He was 75 years old.
Newman was born in Corsicana, Texas on February 24, 1933 and soon moved with his
family to Dallas, where he graduated Lincoln High School, following which he attended
Jarvis Christian College where a studied theology and music on a scholarship while
working in local bands. After two years of college, Newman went on the road full
time with fellow Texan Red Connor's group which featured Ornette Coleman and with
the band of Charlie Parker's mentor Buster Smith, playing dance halls, throughout
the southwest. While on tour he met Ray Charles, who was working as a sideman
with another group. The two bonded, both musically and personally and when Charles
began leading his own band in 1954, he called upon Newman to join the group, beginning
a twelve-year association with the organization, helping to define the Charles
orchestra's sound as its star tenor soloist.
was instrumental in helping Newman set out on a solo career, bringing the saxophonist
to his label, Atlantic Records, leading to his debut album as a leader in 1959,
Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David Newman. The date included Newman's
soulful rendition of Paul Mitchell's classic "Hard Times," with which
he would be identified for the rest of his life. Newman would record numerous
more records as a leader for Atlantic. His versatility on saxes and flutes also
made him a first call session player and his presence contributed to studio dates
by the likes Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Dr. John, Joe Cocker, The Average White
Band and Garland Jeffreys, as well as jazz greats Lee Morgan, Herbie Mann and
fellow Charles alumnus Hank Crawford.
1980, Newman, determined to pursue his own musical identity, recorded several
mainstream jazz albums for the Muse label. Artists such as Cedar Walton, Jimmy
Cobb, Buster Williams, Louis Hayes and other fine NY musicians, helped round out
the rhythm sections. He returned to Atlantic Records in the late eighties to record
several more albums for the label that started out with. One of the recordings
Live at the Village Vanguard, featured Stanley Turrentine and Hank
Crawford. Newman's next recordings were on Herbie Mann's Kokopelli label, a beautiful
CD in tribute to Duke Ellington, titled Mr. Gentle, Mr. Cool and
another that he produced, Under A Woodstock Moon, the title referring
to his move to upstate New York. Newman began a productive relationship with High
Note Records at the close of the 1990s, releasing an impressive series of albums,
including Chillin', Keep the Spirits Singing, Davey
Blue, The Gift, Song for the New Man, I
Remember Brother Ray (a moving tribute to Ray Charles became the #1 Most
Played Jazz Album nationwide), Cityscape, and Life.
His latest album Diamondhead was released in 2008.
appeared on many television shows including Saturday Night Live, David Sanborn's
Night Music, David Letterman, and Michael Jackson: Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration.
He appeared in Robert Altman's film Kansas City and did a national tour with the
Kansas City Orchestra for Verve Records. He was portrayed by Bookeem Woodbine
in the feature film Ray, the award-winning movie on the life of
Ray Charles starring Jamie Foxx.
Newman is survived by his loving wife and manager of twenty eight years, Karen
Newman, four sons, seven grandchildren, three great grandchildren, an uncle and
an aunt and a father-in-law who was his best friend, Izzy Goldstein. Memorial
services are to be announced in the near future.