[JPL] David (Fathead) Newman NYTs Obit

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Fri Jan 23 09:41:07 EST 2009


January 23, 2009
David (Fathead) Newman, Saxophonist, Dies at 75

David (Fathead) Newman, a soft-spoken, sweet-toned jazz and rhythm-and-blues
saxophonist who made his name in Ray Charles¹s bands from the 1950s to the
early ¹70s, died on Tuesday in Kingston, N.Y. He was 75 and lived in
Woodstock, N.Y.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his wife, Karen Newman.

Mr. Newman¹s saxophone sound, pliant and restful but full of energy, was
crucial to the Ray Charles sound, whether the setting was a big band or
small combo.

On thousands of gigs with his taskmaster boss, Mr. Newman helped provide
regular combustion points for concert audiences, like the pleading opening
lines in ³Night Time Is the Right Time² or his tenor saxophone battles with
Don Wilkerson, whose approach was as gritty as Mr. Newman¹s was precise.

Mr. Newman¹s solos were among the defining features on many of Charles¹s
singles for the Atlantic label, like ³Talkin¹ ¹Bout You² and ³I Got a
Woman.² In the late 1950s Charles helped establish Mr. Newman as a serious
contemporary jazz bandleader in his own right, starting with the album
³Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David Newman.²

That album was the first of many Mr. Newman made on his own for a number of
labels, including Atlantic, Warner Brothers, Prestige and HighNote. He also
recorded sessions with Aretha Franklin, Doug Sahm, Natalie Cole, B. B. King,
Donny Hathaway and others. In 1990 he was nominated for a Grammy Award for
his work with Art Blakey and Dr. John.

Born in Corsicana, Tex., and reared in Dallas, Mr. Newman learned alto
saxophone at Lincoln High School. He also got his nickname there when an
outraged music instructor used it as an epithet after catching Mr. Newman
playing a Sousa march from memory rather than from reading the sheet music,
which rested upside down on the stand. Musicians and audiences knew him as
Fathead throughout his career. Ray Charles, however, preferred to call him

Mr. Newman attended Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Tex., for two
years, studying theology while working in local bands. He then became a
full-time member of the alto saxophonist Buster Smith¹s group. Smith was a
Texas musician prominent in the Southwest and Kansas City jazz scene of the
1920s and ¹30s. He was later largely forgotten, but throughout his career
Mr. Newman cited him as his prime influence.

Mr. Newman met Charles in 1951, when Charles was working with the singer and
guitarist Lowell Fulson. They met again in 1954, in Los Angeles, and Charles
hired Mr. Newman to play baritone saxophone. A year later Mr. Newman was
switched to tenor; thereafter he alternated among tenor, baritone and alto,
recording solos on all three. On his own records, from ³Straight Ahead²
(1962) to his last album, ³Diamondhead² (2008), he also played flute.

Mr. Newman stayed with Charles until 1964, through success and a period in
which both were addicted to heroin, then returned in 1970 and 1971. He also
worked for 10 years with the flutist Herbie Mann, through the mid-1970s.

Mr. Newman had lived in Woodstock for the last 15 years. Besides his wife,
who was also his manager, he is survived by four sons: Terry Walker of Las
Vegas, Andre Newman of Falls Church, Va., and Cadino Newman and Benji
Newman, both of Dallas; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

³He was such a jewel,² the trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, a fellow member of the
Ray Charles band, said of Mr. Newman on Thursday. ³He had a rich heritage,
and the different qualities in his playing, from Buster Smith to Dexter
Gordon, gave him an identity of his own.²

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