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 Sunday, 29 November 2015
David Fathead Newman, 1933-2009 PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Thursday, 22 January 2009
David Newman Andrea Canter
Jazz lost one of its senior spokesmen with the passing of saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman on January 20th. Newman died in upstate New York following a year-long bout with pancreatic cancer. He would have been 76 in February.

One of the leading “Texas Tenors,” David “Fathead” Newman was born in Corsicana, Texas and spent his childhood in Dallas. His parents introduced him to jazz through the music of Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and Duke Ellington. "And of course, there was the blues background,” said Newman. “T-Bone Walker and Lowell Fulson were from the Dallas, Tex., area, and you were just surrounded by the blues.  It was all so natural." While playing in the band at Lincoln High School in Dallas, Newman acquired his nickname when his band teacher noticed he had his music upside-down and called him “Fathead.” The name stuck. Newman toured with Buster Smith before signing on for a long stint with Ray Charles, first as a baritone saxman and later as the star tenor soloist. Working with Charles “was like a course in music appreciation,” Newman told the Observer in 2004. “Ray loved jazz, blues, rock, rhythm and blues, country and western, and classical. I was stuck in the bebop era, and I didn't think there was anything other than bebop, but he taught me differently."

David Newman Andrea Canter

From the 50s on, Newman was in high demand, working with Lee Morgan, Billy Higgins, Kenny Dorham, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Dr. John, Art Blakey, and Herbie Mann’s “Family of Mann” project; later associations included Cedar Walton and Buster Williams. He has appeared on many television shows including Saturday Night Live, David Sanborn's Night Music, David Letterman, and in Robert Altman's film "Kansas City." He recorded for Atlantic, Muse, Kokopelli, with the Kansas City Orchestra on Verve, and most recently with High Note, for whom he released six recordings (including I Remember Brother Ray, Cityscape, Life) and his last in 2008, Diamondhead featuring fellow Texan Cedar Walton.

Wrote critic John Murph, “When he plays, he never loses sight of the melody even during a song's most prickly sequences, making every phrase utterly singable. Like his blustery, wide-open sound, his improvisational emphasis on the melody is a testament to his Southern blues roots, proudly extending the legacy of the Texas Tenors…” 

In the Twin Cities, David Fathead Newman appeared most recently at the 2004 Hot Summer Jazz Festival and the 2006 Winter Jazz Festival.  Newman is survived by his wife and manager of twenty eight years, Karen Newman, four sons, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Funeral services are pending, and a jazz memorial service will be held in New York.

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