Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Texas Tenors - David "Fathead" Newman and Curtis Amy Revisited

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Texas tenor saxophonists ... "Texas tenors."

The first time I heard the term described as such was on a Riverside Records LP entitled The Sound of the Wide Open Spaces: James Clay and David "Fathead" Newman [12327].

I thought that it might be fun to use one of its tunes as a soundtrack for a video tribute to some of the better known practitioners of the Texas Tenor style and to have the video serve as an introduction to a re-posting of earlier features on David and Curtis Amy

“The Texas Tenor style” is defined by Ted Gioia in The History of Jazz as:

“A blues-drenched tenor sax style … characterized by honking’, shoutin’, riffin’, riding high on a single note or barking out a guttural howl.” [p. 341]


Cannonball Adderley once referred to the Texas tenor sound as "a moan within the tone."

Orrin Keepnews in his insert notes to James Clay’s Double Dose of Soul [Riverside RLP-9349/OJCCD-1790-2] states it this way:

“For Clay becomes the most recent addition to a long tradition of outstanding tenormen from the big state (among them: Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Budd Johnson, most of whom seem to share the same compelling Texas ‘moan’ in their tone).”

Jerry Atkins in his magnificent treatment on the subject for The International Association of Jazz Record Collector’s IAJRC Journal [Vol. 33, No.2, Spring 2000] puts it more succinctly when he states:

“What is a Texas Tenor? In the world of Jazz, it’s a saxophonist born in or near the Lone Star State and playing with uniqueness in sound and ideas that many have tried to describe.”

Jerry includes in his essay on Texas Tenormen, Herschel Evans, Buddy Tate, Budd JohnsonIllinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, Don Wilkerson, Booker Ervin, John Hardee, James Clay, David ‘Fathead” Newman and Michael Ivery.


David "Fathead" Newman: Tough Texas Tenor

© -  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 Texas tenor tone, every cell in my body comes alive.

That Texas tenor sound is a phenomenon in itself. David, Don Wilkerson, Booker Ervin, James Clay, King Curtis and Wilton 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.

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 Dallas, all the older guys, especially the saxophone players, had a big, wide-open sound.”
- David “Fathead” Newman


“The Texas 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.”
- 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 Arnett CobbIllinois Jacquet, Bud Johnson, Buddy Tate, and a bunch of others, David and James seem to have the same compelling Texas moan in their tone.”

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 Texas moan.”

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 1982, respectively.


© -  Michael Cuscuna, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The legend and aura surrounding Texas 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, Arnett CobbIllinois Jacquet, Booker Ervin, Wilton Felder et al.

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 Dallas before going on the road with Lowell Fulsom and T-Bone Walker, a road that rarely led far beyond the borders of Texas. 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.

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 Riverside 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.

In 1964, David left Ray Charles' orga­nization, which had been since 1960 a full-fledged and less personal big band. He gigged locally around Dallas and turned his attentions to his family in its crucial years. By 1967, he began commuting to New York. 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 Dallas gigs when they were both still in their teens. He also re-established his relationship with Atlantic Records.


In March, he made his first album in five years, using a Texas guitarist who had recently migrated to New York. 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."

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 "Davey Blue."

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 New York 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.

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 New York, “Fathead.”

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, Jerusalem, 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.




Curtis Amy: Testifyin' Texas Tenor

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


That Texas tenor sound is a phenomenon in itself. David “Fathead” Newman, Don Wilkerson, Booker Ervin, James Clay, King Curtis and Wilton 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.

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

One could certainly add the name of Curtis Amy to the above list of Texas Tenor saxophonists.

Soul and Funk were the big, new discoveries of a number of Jazz record companies in the early 1960s. With their heavy backbeats and simple melodic refrains, the soulful and funky Jazz styles appealed to a wider audience, particularly those who liked their Jazz laced with a heavy dose of rhythm and blues.

The origins or “roots” [an “in” word for those times] of soulful and funky Jazz supposedly were to be found in their connection to the religious music that was sung and played in southern Baptist and Pentecostal churches. Music, as well as, prayer was one means of penitence, or, in the parlance of the times, testifyin or signifyin’ one’s spiritual allegiance.

Bluesy albums set to a boogaloo beat were another by-product of this era of Jazz commercialism and words like “funky” and “groovy” and “soulful” were plastered all over LP covers.

It was a fun music to play, especially if you were a drummer. Nothing complicated. Music played at slow-to-moderate tempos, with melodies mainly derived from 12-bar blues and lots of rim shots or two-beat shuffles tapped out on the snare and bass drums.

The vocal epitome of this style of music was “brother” Ray Charles whose tambourine-totting background singers were always there to show the audience where to clap their hands or stomp their feet on the second and fourth beats of every bar of the music.

But, hey, even Jazz musicians have to eat and pay the rent and the popularity of Soul and Funk provided lots of gigs until the dramatic rise of Rock ‘n Roll took things in a different direction in the 1960s.

Tenor saxophonist Curtis Amy came to prominence during this era and the titles of some of his recordings – The Blues Message, Meetin’ Here, Way Down, Groovin’ Blue, - are reflective of it.

Texas tenorman Curtis Amy had a long and distinguished career as a jazz artist, studio musician and  record executive. During his years with Pacific Jazz, he recorded six superb albums that revealed an artist who constantly challenged himself as an improviser and as a composer.

With the exception of Katanga which was issued as a limited edition CD in 1998 by Blue Note as part of its West Coast Classics series [CDP 94580], none of Amy’s output for Pacific Jazz was reissued digitally until Michael Cuscuna and his team at Mosaic Records collected all six of the Amy Pacific Jazz LP’s and put them out as a 3-CD Mosaic Select boxed-set in 2003.

Here is the text from mosaicrecords.com announcing this set.


The Bluesy Drive of a Great Texas Tenor.

“There’s nothing quite like the mournful cry or the bluesy drive of a great Texas tenor saxophonist. Curtis Amy was of the same generation as Booker Ervin, David Fathead Newman, James Clay and Wilton Felder, but his time in the jazz spotlight was brief. Amy had a beautiful sound and a style that was both muscular and lyrical. Although he had a long and successful career in his transplanted home of Los Angeles, much of it was spent doing high profile studio work and working with his wife, the extraordinary Merry Clayton.

During his years with Pacific Jazz (1960-63), he recorded six superb albums that revealed an artist who constantly challenged himself as an improviser and as a composer. After The Blues Message and Meetin’ Here, two soulful collaborations with organist Paul Bryant, he moved into more textured hard bop surroundings, fronting sextets with varied instrumentation. He and Frank Butler co-led Groovin’ Blue, which features Carmell Jones and Bobby Hutcherson. Way Down includes Roy Ayers, Marcus Belgrave, Victor Feldman and valve trombonist Roy Brewster among others.

Tippin’ On Through was recorded live at the Lighthouse with Ayers and Brewster among others. Amy’s final album for the label Katanga is regarded as his masterpiece; it featured the legendary trumpeter Dupree Bolton as well as Ray Crawford and Jack Wilson. From the furious be-bop of the title tune to the lament "Lonely Woman" to the hypnotic, extended performance of "Native Land", Amy's work as an improviser and composer is at its zenith. Trumpeter Dupree Bolton, who made an impressive debut on Harold Land's "The Fox" three years earlier, is absolutely dazzling with a brash attack, formidable chops and very original ideas.

Although he made two more albums (in 1966 and 1994) and recorded with Gerald Wilson and Onzy Matthews, the six albums that he made for Pacific Jazz – all contained in this Mosaic Select set represent his greatest legacy. Amazingly, five of them make their appearance on CD for the first time.”

Thomas Conrad offered the following review of the Mosaic Select: Curtis Amy set in the May 2004 edition of JazzTimes.


© -Thomas Conrad, JazzTimes, May 2004, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“For all those who have regarded Mosaic boxed sets as the gold standard among jazz reissue programs, the recently introduced Mosaic Select series requires some spirit of compromise. The seventh release in the series, for example, provides only six short paragraphs of current retrospective on the career of tenor saxophonist Curtis Amy. In a "real" Mosaic collection, we would have gotten a full-size catalog, an extravagance of session photos and a new in-depth essay by a leading Amy authority with voluminous discographical data. In this three-CD set, we get only the undistinguished original liner notes.

But if the Select series is budget-challenged, it is also free to go where big Mosaic boxed sets cannot-for example, to artists whose recorded output is sparse, and/or whose appeal is limited to (in Mosaic founder/producer Michael Cuscuna's words) "a relatively small but discerning audience."

Case in point, Curtis Amy. He came out of HoustonTexas-a fact that is announced with his entrance on the very first track of disc one, "Searchin'." After Paul Bryant's plaintive prologue on Hammond B3, Amy emerges with a huge, long, braying wail, a sound that only emanates from one (Lone Star) state.

Unlike the other great Texas tenors who came up in the '40s and '50s (Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, Booker Ervin, David "Fathead" Newman, et. al.), Amy went west. He settled in Los Angeles in 1955, became active on the L.A. scene and recorded six LPs for Richard Bock's Pacific label between 1960 and 1963. All six are here, and only one of them, Katanga!, has ever been previously reissued on CD. Between 1963 and 1994, Amy recorded only once under his own name. During these years he played in L.A. big bands, toured with Ray Charles, and worked as a studio musician, record company executive, and actor. He died at the age of 72 in 2002.

Amy was more than just a special player. He was a commanding figure with a big, blustering sound and chops to burn, a teller of definitive tales of the soul. The first two albums represented, The Blues Message and Meetin' Here, with the little known Bryant, are examples of the tenor/organ combo genre as powerful as anything that ever came out of New York. Amy could testify with anyone, and he was also an exceptional ballad interpreter ("Come Rain or Come Shine," "Angel Eyes").

The progress of these six albums moves from deep blues grooves to more textured and sophisticated-but still soulful-approaches. Along the way, a door is opened to a subset of West Coast jazz much earthier than the famous "cool school," while still reflecting a sunnier environment than that of East Coast hard bop. Amy surrounds himself with some of the best players of that time and place, like Carmell Jones and Dupree Bolton and Frank Strazzeri and Frank Butler. But his own clarion, assertive voice always dominates.

The collection culminates in what Michael Cuscuna calls "Amy's masterpiece," Katanga!. It is indeed an album where everything magically works, from inspiration through execution. Pianist Jack Wilson and guitarist Ray Crawford use their allotted space beautifully, and Amy, in a stunning purity of tone, introduces his new instrument, soprano saxophone. But Katanga! will always be remembered as the last documented appearance on record of trumpeter Dupree Bolton, one of the most mysterious and tragic figures in the history of jazz. Bolton could spit fire and turn the flames into music on a level approaching Clifford Brown. But after Katanga! he disappeared into prisons, institutions and a life on the streets.”

The following video montage features Curtis Amy on soprano saxophone playing his original composition Lonely Woman. The tune is included on the Mosaic Select set and the Katanga CD. Curtis is joined by Dupree Bolton on trumpet, Ray Crawford on guitar, Jack Wilson on piano, Victor Gaskin on bass and Doug Sides on drums.



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