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Playing Around: David "Fathead" Newman



Legendary jazz saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman makes a rare Colorado Springs appearance for a musician of his stature. Newman, 68, is one of the elder statesmen of jazz, and he credits his active touring and recording schedule to his wife Karen, who is also his manager.

"I enjoy the luxury of having my wife involved in my musical career," Newman told the Indy from his home in Woodstock, N.Y. His only limitation is that, as the result of a decade-old operation, he must avoid smoky environments, which eliminates clubs, despite his preference for their intimacy.

"I got my first instrument when I was about eight years old," Newman recalled. "I had taken piano lessons, and then I decided that I wanted to change over to a horn instrument, so I asked my mom about getting me a saxophone, and she did. Actually, some of my friends were calling me a little sissy, so I decided I wanted to play a horn instrument, something more masculine."

After graduating high school, he began playing professionally with bands around his hometown of Dallas. One of his earliest musical acquaintances was Ornette Coleman, one of the innovators of "free jazz," an avante garde jazz movement that began in the late 1950s. "We were in the bebop era when we met, and we would have these jam sessions in the parks ... . We knew Ornette was going in a different direction."

Newman studied theology at a local college, but "of course, that only lasted a couple of years." He then went back to playing full time with Buster Smith, who was a composer and arranger in Dallas. Smith formed a group, and during a Dallas gig with T-bone Walker, Ray Charles came through town. Newman and Charles became friends right away, and later, Charles contacted Newman when he started his own band in '54.

"I went to California and joined his band," Newman said. "I started playing the baritone saxophone with Ray, and later I switched to tenor saxophone. I stayed for a period of about ten years. And then I came to New York and played professionally for a few years, and then I went back to Ray Charles' band and played [in] '70 and '71."

Over the years, Newman played and recorded with musicians ranging from Lee Morgan, Aretha Franklin and Hank Crawford to Natalie Cole and Dr. John, to name a few. After struggles with record companies in the '70s, Newman has regained control of his recording career, most recently producing his CDs with High Note Records. His latest release is this year's Keep the Spirits Singing.

Newman's performance is an unprecedented opportunity to experience a living link in the unbroken chain of jazz history.

-- Matt Fullen

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