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January 23, 2009

Saxophone Titan David “Fathead” Newman Dies

Written by
cindy mcleod

jazz music obituaries

David Fathead Newman

David “Fathead Newman
1933-2009

Versatile Reed Man Played with a Who’s Who of Jazz, Blues

Tenor saxophone giant David ‘Fathead’ Newman has succumbed to pancreatic cancer on Tuesday in Kingston, NY. He was 75.

Newman was a key member of Ray Charles’ band for a dozen years and can be heard on many of Charles’ hits, including “I Got a Woman,” “What’d I Say” and “Lonely Avenue.” He was also a high-profile session player.

Born in Texas on February 24, 1933, Newman grew up in Dallas, where he first studied piano before taking up the saxophone. He earned the name “Fathead” from his high school band teacher because he stubbornly refused to learn to read music, preferring to play by ear.

He attended Jarvis Christian College on a scholarship but after three years he returned to music, playing mostly jazz and blues with musicians including Buster Smith, Lloyd Glenn, Lowell Fulson and T-Bone Walker.

He met Ray Charles in the early 1950s when the pianist was a sideman for Fulson. When Charles started his own band in 1954, he hired Newman to play baritone saxophone. He later switched to tenor and became the band’s star soloist.

After leaving Charles’ band, Newman went on to play with Herbie Mann’s band in 1970-71 and recorded several more albums for Atlantic as well as Warner Bros., Fantasy Records and Muse.

The versatile reed man was a first-call session player, working with a wide variety of leading artists including Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Joe Cocker, and Dr. John, and with Natalie Cole on her “Unforgettable” album. He was nominated for a Grammy (1990) for his work with Art Blakey and Dr. John.

Newman orchestrated music for film scores and played and appeared in the Robert Altman film “Kansas City.” He later did a national tour with the band from that 1996 film for Verve records. He later portrayed a character role in “Ray,” the 2004 biopic of Charles’ life that starred Jamie Foxx.

David “Fathead” Newman is survived by his wife Karen, four sons, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Funeral services are pending.

Cards can be sent to:
c/o Head Music
112 Tanglewood Road
West Hurley, NY 12491

for more info visit www.davidfatheadnewman.com

One comment for this post.

  1. Pingback from » Saxophone Titan David “Fathead” Newman Dies Jazz Elements: jazz … on January 24th, 2009 :

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