Musician put his stamp on Ray Charles' songs
David “Fathead” Newman, the saxophonist and flutist who put a distinctive muscular stamp on the recordings of Ray Charles in the 1950s and ‘60s, on Jan. 20 in Kingston, N.Y. of pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
A native of Dallas who studied theology and music Jarvis Christian College while working in local bands, he left school to tour with Red Connor, whose band also featured Ornette Coleman, and with the band of Charlie Parker’s mentor Buster Smith.
While on tour, he met Charles, who was also working as a sideman. In 1954, when Charles formed his own group, Newman joined and over the next 12 years became its star tenor sax soloist.
Charles helped Newman forge a concurrent solo career, as Atlantic released in 1959, “Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David Newman,” which included a tune for which he would be forever associated, “Hard Times.”
But it was in the studio accompanying others that Newman excelled, appearing on Newman was also a first call session player and he appeared on Aretha Franklin’s “Soul ‘69,” Jimmy Scott’s “All the Way” and Donny Hathaway’s “Extension of a Man,” plus recordings by B.B. King, Dr. John, Joe Cocker and Jane Monheit. He also worked as a sideman on jazz albums by Lee Morgan, Herbie Mann and Hank Crawford, another member of Charles’ band.
Beginning in 1980, Newman mostly worked as a leader, moving between straight-ahead and pop-oriented jazz on recordings for Muse, Atlantic, Mann’s Kokopelli label and High Note Records. His last release, “Diamondhead,” came out last year; High Note will release “The Blessing,” recorded at his final session in December, last this year.
He appeared in Robert Altman’s film “Kansas City” and did a national tour with the Kansas City Orchestra for Verve Records. He was portrayed by Bookeem Woodbine in the feature film “Ray.”
Newman is survived by his wife, Karen, four sons, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.