Before & After: David “Fathead” Newman

Though he now lives in Woodstock, New York, David Newman will always be known as a Texas tenor. The big-toned saxophonist from the Lone Star State was born into a musical family 70 years ago in Corsicana, not far from Dallas. As a teenager he worked with Buster Smith and played in Red Connor’s band with Ornette Coleman. The early 1950s found Newman playing the blues with Lowell Fulson and  T-Bone Walker, then in 1954 he raised his profile when he joined Ray Charles for a 10 year stretch, first on baritone, then as featured tenor soloist. Newman, who plays all the saxophones and flute, has been making records as a leader since 1958. He’s worked in the studios, recorded jazz dates with Lee Morgan, Hank Crawford, Roy Hargrove, Dr. John, Lou Rawls, and appeared in the Robert Altman film Kansas City. His latest CD, “The Gift” (HighNote) features his soulful sound backed by John Hicks, Bryan Carrott, Buster Williams and Winard Harper.

1) Joey DeFrancesco/Joe Doggs
“Dearly Beloved,” from Falling In Love Again (Concord) Joey DeFrancesco, organ; Joe Doggs, vocals; Byron Landham, drums; Pat Martino guitar solo; Kevin Eubanks, rhythm guitar; Ramon Banda, conga. Recorded in 2002.

Before: It sounds like Jimmy Scott. If it’s not him, it’s some female vocalist who leans towards the style of Jimmy Scott. Hmmm, I’ve never heard this before; maybe I should listen some more. [after hearing it again] Well, if it’s not Jimmy, I’ll be surprised. We go back to the 60s-I recorded several times with Jimmy, going back to the Atlantic days, and to the session he did for Ray Charles. It’s very unusual for Jimmy to do a recording with that much tempo. Most of his things are not that swinging, with that much tempo. But the laid-back phrasing is Jimmy’s thing. This organist may be Joey DeFrancesco. He’s one of the only organists today that plays with the energy of a Jimmy Smith in his younger days. Yeah, that’s probably Joey, and that may be Joey’s drummer, Byron. [The guitarist] may be Mark Whitfield or Russell Malone. It’s not Jimmy Ponder or George Benson. So, how close am I?

After: Oh boy! So this is not Jimmy?

Word is that the vocalist Joe Doggs is actually the actor Joe Pesci.

Joe Pesci? He’s really got Jimmy Scott down. I guess the swinging tempo left room for doubt-Jimmy’s a balladeer, a little more laid back than this guy. Yeah, that was a big surprise there.

2) Steve Wilson
“Easy Going Evening (My Mama’s Call),” from Soulful Song (MAXJAZZ). Steve Wilson, alto sax; Bruce Barth, piano; Ed Howard, bass; Adam Cruz, drums. Recorded in 2002.

Before: I don’t recognize the tune and I’ve never heard this record. The alto player sounds like he might be Donald Harrison or Justin ? It’s not Antonio Hart. Oh, that may be Vincent Herring. I like the changes, I like the progressions and I like the style of the alto player, his approach. It’s in the pocket and he doesn’t play a lot of gimmicks. I don’t hear a lot of novelty stuff going on. It’s a medium-swing, bluesy thing, but it’s not a blues. The piano player has a real bluesy feel. You got me wondering, I’m in suspense.

After: This is a new release? I’ve heard him but I’m not that familiar with his stuff.  I like what he’s doing. He doesn’t overplay. I like this style of playing very much. It’s not always about proving how well you can get over the instrument or how many notes you can play. Sometimes simplicity makes the tune, and feeling. I could tell he wasn’t an older player, though. I didn’t hear much vibrato, mostly straight tones.

Can you teach a younger musician how to play like an older musician?

No, you just have to live and listen.

3) Frank Wess
“I Hear Ya Talkin,” from Opus De Blues (Savoy Jazz). Frank Wess, alto sax; Thad Jones, trumpet; Curtis Fuller, trombone; Charlie Fowlkes, baritone sax; Hank Jones, piano; Eddie Jones, bass; Gus Johnson, drums. Recorded in 1959.

Before: [slowly spreading grin] I sure do like the voicings on the arrangement. Oooh, I love this. This must be Benny Carter, cause of the arrangement and the voicing. It’s not Benny Carter? Well let’s see, who else could it be? It sounds like some older players. It’s a real swinging style, and I love the voicings. It reminds me of some of the bands that James Moody used to have. The rhythm section is solid. Is it Frank Wess?

After: I had forgotten that he played a lot of alto as well as tenor. He almost sounded like Benny Carter on that one. [looks at the cover] Oooh, Thad! Ha, ha, ha. Gus Johnson. I knew all of these guys really well, except for Eddie Jones. Frank Wess is an excellent musician. We did a recording together with [Jimmy] McGriff, and we did a lot of cruises and Dick Gibson’s jazz parties. I remember one set we did with Zoot Sims, Frank Wess, Budd Johnson and myself. I was a generation behind those guys, and being in their company was like heaven for me.

4) Lucky Thompson
“Tricotism,” from Tricotism (Impulse). Lucky Thompson, tenor sax; Oscar Pettiford, bass; Skeeter Best, guitar. Recorded in 1956.

Before: I know this tune. I love it, it’s wonderful. I want to say it’s Benny Golson, or it could be Al Cohn, or Paul Gonsalves. I love the era that it comes from. It’s got that Pres thing; swinging and smooth.

After: Lucky Thompson! I thought for a minute it might have been Don Byas. I never did hear Lucky play that much. I was more into Bird, Lockjaw, Moody and Dexter. This is a wonderful sound and approach, though. Light and smooth. Yeah, Oscar Pettiford, he wrote that one.

5) Arnett Cobb
“Go, Red, Go,” from Arnett Blows For 1300 (Delmark/Apollo). Arnett Cobb, tenor sax; David Page, trumpet; Michael “Booty” Wood; George Rhodes, piano; Walter Buchanan, bass; George Jones, drums. Recorded in 1947.

Before: [immediately] Oh yeah, I know who this is. Arnett Cobb.

What makes you say Arnett?

Well, [chuckles] it’s just his thing. I listened to him and [Illinois] Jacquet a lot, you know, being from Texas too. Jacquet’s a fine musician, but for my money Arnett was the really classic player. And he had that thing [laughter]. Yeah, I can hear some of Arnett’s cliches. I still love what he did. I had a little experience of being around him and playing with him. I went to Europe and played with him a lot. He was a funny guy, full of jokes. He would love a drink and was great fun to be around.  I don’t know what he was like during his younger days.

People talk about Texas tenor players. What does that mean to you?

It’s the sound, that big wide-open sound. Sound came first, even before execution. Arnette had that, Jacquet had it. Budd Johnson and Buddy Tate had it.

Did Dewey Redman have it? James Clay?

Nah, Dewey and James came from a different school. They were younger guys. James Clay was listening to Sonny Rollins, that was his man.

6) Javon Jackson
“If You See Kay,” from Easy Does It (Palmetto). Javon Jackson, tenor sax; Dr. Lonnie Smith, organ; Lenny White, drums; Mark Whitfield, guitar. Recorded in 2002.

Before: I never heard this before. Sounds like one of the younger players. Is it Lonnie Smith on organ? He’s from that school, but he doesn’t pull all the stops like Jimmy [Smith]. I’ve been on a lot of dates with Lonnie; we did a thing together with Lee Morgan back in the 60’s. Is this Lonnie’s record? It’s the saxophonist’s? Sounds like a younger player. He’s exciting. They’re playing that funky backbeat. They’re jazzing it up but the funk groove is there. It’s a dance thing where people can clap their hands and shake their booties.

After: Javon! Oh boy, I was just with him in Marciac [France]. We just played together with the drummer Alvin Queen. I like his playing very much. I like his approach-he’s still growing but he’s getting a wealth of experience playing with Blakey, Cedar Walton, Freddie Hubbard.

I can see what he would learn from working with you. Is there anything you learn from working with a younger player like Javon?

Well, it’s just the energy and getting over the horn. Maybe some new ideas. I like what he’s doing. I mentioned to him I’d like him to join me as guest artist at some point. We hung out and became close. We mostly talked about music, especially the older guys like Blakey and Freddie Hubbard. He especially liked the thing I did with Lee Morgan for Blue Note.

7) Wayne Shorter
“Capricorn II,” from Alegria (Verve). Wayne Shorter, tenor, soprano sax; Danilo Perez, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Brian Blade, drums.

Before: This sounds like Wayne Shorter.

After: That’s his thing, his sound. Sounds like one of his tunes. I like a lot of his older things. I especially like his things with Miles [Davis] and Art [Blakey]. He’s the same Wayne, but he’s a bit more abstract here. He’s a great player, but my ear doesn’t relate to this. I don’t have anything against this, but this isn’t something I would play for myself. I’m more a Joe Henderson man. I never found Wayne that easy to talk to. I would see him on occasion. He just had that deep look he’d give you, with his eyes, but I would never hear him say too much, so I don’t really know what he’s like. I’m sure there are things on here that I’d love because he’s a great composer and I have great respect for his writing.

After: [examines the cover] I’d like to have this, and I’ll make it a point to get this. I’d like to listen to more of this. [listens to Serenata, arranged by Wayne Shorter] This is pretty. Beautiful. Yeah, nice. I hear oboe, flute, clarinet, bassoon. I like what he’s doing here on soprano. I like where this is going. I guess it’s my ear. I need to hear some kind of form. If it’s something I can’t follow, I can’t relate to it. It’s like when Ornette Coleman and I used to play Bird tunes together in the park in Fort Worth. He could play Bird’s solos note for note, but after that he would go into Ornette and he wouldn’t play the form of the tune. That’s where he’d lose me. [resumes listening to Shorter] This is interesting; I can feel it and hear it.

8. Coleman Hawkins/Ben Webster
“La Rosita,” from Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster (Verve). Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, tenor sax; Oscar Peterson, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; Alvin Stoller, drums. Recorded in 1957.

Before: This is one of the older guys. The tone and the sound gives it away. The vibrato, none of the younger guys use that kind of vibrato. That’s a pretty melody. I don’t know the tune but it’s a pretty tune. Ahh, this is Ben [laughs]. Mr. Webster. Is this Coleman Hawkins? He’s got that rough edge, where Ben had the warm, smooth sound. What’s the name of this?

After: I like Coleman Hawkins, but for sound I like Ben.

9) Greg Osby
“Shaw Nuff,” from St. Louis Shoes (Blue Note). Greg Osby, alto sax; Nicholas Payton, trumpet; Harold O’Neal, piano; Robert Hurst, bass; Rodney Green, drums. Recorded in 2003.

Before: I don’t know the name of this tune, but I’ve heard it. Hmmm! Is this trumpeter Woody Shaw? Wallace Roney? I like it. It sounds like a be-bop tune. Is it Nicholas Payton? Yeah? Was the alto player Jessie Davis? Bobby Watson?  It’s funny, I can identify the trumpeter easier than the saxophonist.

After: O.K. I’m not that familiar with his work. He can play. It’s nice, straight ahead. He’s putting new harmonies to it.

10) Benny Carter
“Body & Soul,” from Further Definitions (Impulse). Benny Carter, Phil Woods, alto sax; Charlie Rouse, Coleman Hawkins, tenor sax; Dick Katz, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; John Collins, guitar; Jo Jones, drums. Recorded in 1961.

Before:  I’ve never heard this recording before. Was that Moody on alto? Phil Woods? This other alto could be Benny Carter. Is this Coleman Hawkins? These guys, they got that certain thing. I could tell from the arrangement too, that’s probably Benny’s arrangement. I’ve been on a couple jazz cruises with him. Yeah, Phil Woods has a lot of respect for Benny Carter. And he should. Benny is a wonderful musician. [chuckles over Coleman Hawkins’ coda]. That’s what a lot of guys love about Coleman Hawkins’ playing. That’s why for many many years he was the king of the hill.

After: I’d love to have this.

Your three favorite records of all time?

Giant Steps by Coltrane, Charlie Parker’s Ko-Ko, and The Chase by Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon.

This B&A originally appeared in JazzTimes in 2003

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