David Newman: Chillin’

1 Feb

David Newman had one of the genre’s most notable nicknames, and fortunately, one of its best demeanors, as well. “Fathead” was nothing but a name.

He was christened by a music teacher in high school, upset Newman was playing by memory and not learning to read the music — the giveaway was that his music was upside down on the stand. But who needs to read when you can play a saxophone (and flute) like this?

Ray Charles, whose band Newman was a staple in, called him Brains, and it was more appropriate.

Born in Texas in 1933, Newman’s sax accompanied Charles on Ray’s early albums, and it’s Newman’s solos that highlight “I Got A Woman” and “What’d I’d Say,” among others. Newman was portrayed in the movie Ray, but with a storyline that upset him more than his nickname ever did — it was Newman, in the film, who introduced Charles to heroin. Newman, who had his own addiction issues, said Charles was already using before they met.

Newman parted amicably with Charles and produced nearly 40 albums as a band leader, including a tribute to Charles, “I Remember Brother Ray,” released after Charles’ death.

Said Newman: “I can wear several different hats.  I can put on my blues hat and I can put on my jazz hat.” 

He died last January at 75.


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