© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“It's always been a mystery to me why David "Fathead" Newman isn't one of the most popular instrumentalists of the second half of the twentieth century.
He's got the intellectual chops to play be-bop, ballads or blues with a backbeat and with feeling, creativity and authority. He's got more taste than most living musicians; his sparse obbligatos behind Ray Charles on the magnificent live version of "Drown In My Own Tears" should be required listening for anyone licensed to carry a horn.
When he plays a note with the unique
tenor tone, every cell in my body comes alive. Texas
tenor sound is a phenomenon in itself. David, Don Wilkerson, Booker Ervin,
James Clay, King Curtis and Texas
Felder were some of its major exponents to emerge in the fifties. As different
as their styles were, they shared a rich, hard, vibrato-less sound and a clear,
deliberate articulation. Wilton
The sound is strong, sure and prideful, but with an underlying vulnerability. It's passionate. … Cannonball Adderley described it as ‘a moan inside the tone.’ …”
Michael Cuscuna, 1997
“When I was coming up in
all the older guys, especially the saxophone players, had a big, wide-open
- David “Fathead” Newman
tenor sound and concept is very much unlike, and in advance of, the Coleman
Hawkins of 1929 and beyond. It is a more fluent, more melodic and blues tinged
approach, perhaps more elegant, too.” Texas
- Günter Schuller
During an interview with him, I once asked Orrin Keepnews, who for many years was the proprietor and co-owner of Riverside Records, why he labeled the album he co-produced with Cannonball Adderley for David “Fathead” Newman and James Clay, The Sound of the Wide Open Spaces [Riverside RLP 1178; OJCCD-257]?
“Because,” he said, “ like
Jacquet, Bud Johnson, Buddy Tate, and a
bunch of others, David and James seem to have the same compelling Arnett Cobb, Illinois moan in their tone.” Texas
Even now, after all these years, when I listen to the music of tenor saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman, it always calls to mind Orrin’s phrase – “a compelling
In his notes to David’s recording entitled Resurgence, which along with Still Hard Times has been reissued on CD as David “Fathead” Newman: Lone Star Legend [Savoy Jazz SVY 17249],
Michael Cuscuna offered these insight on the Texas tenor
sound, David Fathead Newman’s relationship to it and the salient features of
David’s career up to when these recordings took place for Muse in 1980 and
Cuscuna, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
The legend and aura surrounding
saxophonists is clearly based in fact. Whether from Houston in the
south or Dallas-Fort Worth in Central Texas, that state has spawned an array of
impressive artists for generations, all toting a hard veneer and a soul that
can embrace the world. Only listening can reveal the bond that links Herschel
Evans, Texas Jacquet, Booker Ervin, Wilton Felder et
A geographically genetic genre. An oral tradition and a testament to environment.
Consider the dramatic differences between David Newman, James Clay, King Curtis, and Ornette Coleman, all within a couple of years of the same age, all in Dallas-Fort Worth revolving around the band of the legendary saxophonist Red Connor in their teens.
Dig beyond their obvious stylistic differences, and you will hear the same voice, the same cry, the same bending of the note, the same powerful, but vulnerable sound.
On one end of the spectrum in the forties was Ornette Coleman, the oldest of the bunch. Red Connor would often scold or fire him for memorizing and perfectly executing Charlie Parker solos, an exercise that Connor felt to be uncreative. On the other hand was King Curtis (Ousley), mastering and crystallizing the rich blues and R & B tradition, but snubbed by Connor and the Beboppers of the day. History would vindicate men as their visions focused and their contributions became irrefutable. Fusing both extremes and all the riches that lie in between were men like David Newman, a master who has yet to receive his due.
Still in his teens, David built a strong reputation around
before going on the road with Lowell
Fulsom and T-Bone Walker, a road that rarely led far beyond the borders of Dallas . He was playing alto and baritone
saxophones at the time. He and Ray Charles had crossed paths on several
occasions in the early fifties. When Charles put together a permanent working
band in 1954 with the effective instrumentation of two trumpets, two saxophones
and rhythm, he recruited Texas tenorman Don Wilkerson and David Newman,
playing primarily baritone, but occasionally doubling on alto. A year later,
Wilkerson left. David was offered the tenor saxophone chair. Of course, he
accepted the new position and the new instrument. And the rest, as they say,
was hysteria. Texas
David's solos, obligate fills and ensemble voice were stunning testaments to the art of R & B. His understated, soulful creations matched the essence of Ray Charles perfectly. Charles recorded a couple of instrumental albums that featured Newman's talents. The band's repertoire was beginning to include pieces by James Moody, Horace Silver, Max Roach and Milt Jackson.
By 1958, Memphis-born Benny Crawford, primarily a pianist and alto saxophonist, secured the baritone saxophone chair with the Charles band, bringing into it his own ideas and sound. A few months later, Detroiter Marcus Belgrave would assume one of the trumpet chairs. In July, the Ray Charles band would perform (and record) at the Newport Jazz Festival. In November, at Ray's instigation,
Atlantic would record the first album by David
Newman with the Charles band of the time minus the second trumpet. And that
meant David on alto and tenor, Crawford on baritone (and contributing three
tunes), Belgrave on trumpet, Ray Charles himself on piano, Edgar Willis on bass
and Milt Turner on drums.
In 1959, Charles added Leroy Cooper on baritone sax, freeing Crawford to return to alto saxophone. In the process, he changed his first name to Hank and affirmed his own startling identity. He too began recording for
Atlantic, maintaining the essence and style of that
original Ray Charles instrumentation throughout his ten year stint with that
record company. On the first three albums (1960-62), he used the band minus
Charles intact. And that meant more opportunities to hear David.
But for David Newman, any outside activity after his first album seemed to be an opportunity to break away from the Charles mold. In 1960, he recorded a straight-ahead date for
with James Clay and his second Atlantic
album. Although Marcus Belgrave contributed a tune, the setting was strictly
quartet with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Charlie Persip, a clear statement
of hard-core jazz. His third album schizophrenically offered a hard bop quintet
with Belgrave on trumpet and a funky, blusier quartet with Crawford at the piano
and Ray Charles' bassist and drummer. Riverside
In 1964, David left Ray Charles' organization, which had been since 1960 a full-fledged and less personal big band. He gigged locally around
and turned his attentions to his family in
its crucial years. By 1967, he began commuting to Dallas . By this time, he was playing soprano sax,
as well as alto, tenor and flute. He re-established his ties with Cedar Walton,
who was his pianist on local New York gigs when they were both still in their
teens. He also re-established his relationship with Atlantic Records. Dallas
In March, he made his first album in five years, using a
guitarist who had recently migrated to Texas . His name was Ted Dunbar, and that was his
first recording session. The tune that drew attention to the album was one that
Walton had just given to him, when they were working out on a friend's piano.
It was "To The Holy Land[Recorded on the 1967 House of David Atlantic
LP 1489]." A month later, Newman and Walton would appear together on a
Lee Morgan session for Blue Note, recently released as "Sonic Boom." New York
Throughout the late sixties, David continued to record a succession of albums under his own name and appear on dates led by organist Don Patterson, Lonnie Smith, Shirley Scott and Charles Kynard. After rejoining Ray Charles briefly in 1970, he became a member of Herbie Mann's Family of Mann, a vehicle that allowed his tenor saxophone and flute work to shine and allowed him to contribute to the band's book of compositions as well. It was this band that first recorded "
Although he left Mann in 1974, David continued to record albums of his own for
Atlantic (and its sister label Warner Bros.) until
1977. He did studio work for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Cornell Dupree,
Nikki Giovani, T-Bone Walker and Ben Sidran and made occasional live
appearances. But David's emphasis shifted back to Dallas during the late
seventies except for three heavily arranged albums for Prestige that were
misguided in the sense that they obscured the identity of the man whose name
appeared on the record cover.
In the summer of 1980, David arrived in
and transcended his shyness, calling all
his old friends in town to announce his presence and his availability. We all
responded with delight, and many things grew out of it. Among them is this record
date, his first pure effort in years. The cast featured old associates,
including Hank Crawford who came to the session with "Carnegie
Blues" freshly written and tucked under his arm. New York
There could not have been a more appropriate date to record this album than September 23, the birthdate shared by Ray Charles and John Coltrane. Welcome back to
, “Fathead.” New York
It had been my plan to use the 1967 version of To The Holy Land from The House of David Atlantic LP as the audio track on the following video tribute to David “Fathead” Newman, but WMG had other ideas and muted the audio when the video was uploaded to YouTube.
So instead we turned to the 1980 version of the tune Michael references in his notes to the Resurgence LP with David on tenor sax, along with Marcus Belgrave on trumpet, Ted Dunbar on guitar, Cedar Walton on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Louis Hayes on drums.
And if you are in the mood for contrasts, with the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz
LTD, I also developed another video that shows
actual images of The Holy Land, in this case, , with a big band version of Cedar’s tune
for the sound track as provided by the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw.
Peter Beets does the solo honors on piano. Jerusalem