You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tommy Newsom, 78, musician

'Tonight Show' vet also played saxophone

Tommy Newsom, the former backup bandleader on “The Tonight Show” whose “Mr. Excitement” nickname was a running joke for Johnny Carson died April 28 in Portsmouth, Va. He was 78.

Newsom, who played saxophone, joined “The Tonight Show” in 1962 and rose from band member to assistant music director. He retired along with Carson in 1992.

Newsom won music direction Emmys for “Night of 100 Stars” in 1982 and “The 40th Annual Tony Awards Show” in 1986. “The Tonight Show” received five Emmy awards during Newsom’s years on it.

Carson gave Newsom the name Mr. Excitement to make light of his low-key personality and drab brown and blue suits — a sharp contrast to the flashy style of bandleader Doc Severinsen.

Not long after the Carson era ended in 1992, Newsom remarked that his image as an ordinary guy was “fairly accurate — compared to Rambo.”

Along with his work on “The Tonight Show,” Newsom arranged and composed music for Skitch Henderson, Woody Herman, Kenny Rogers, John Denver and other performers.

He also released several albums as a bandleader, including “Live From Beautiful Downtown Burbank” in 1978 and “I Remember You, Johnny” in 1996.

Newsom was born in Portsmouth and got his first horn for Christmas at age 8. He graduated from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, then toured with a U.S. Air Force jazz ensemble during a four-year enlistment.

Before landing his “Tonight” gig, he toured the Soviet Union and South America with Benny Goodman and played in “The Merv Griffin Show” orchestra.

Newsom is survived by his wife of 50 years, Patricia, and a daughter.

More Scene

  • Jeremy Piven69th Primetime Emmy Awards, Arrivals,

    Jeremy Piven Hosts Benefit for Domestic Violence Survivors, Caitlyn Jenner Honored

    Tommy Newsom, the former backup bandleader on “The Tonight Show” whose “Mr. Excitement” nickname was a running joke for Johnny Carson died April 28 in Portsmouth, Va. He was 78. Newsom, who played saxophone, joined “The Tonight Show” in 1962 and rose from band member to assistant music director. He retired along with Carson in […]

  • Jeff Bridges'Bad Times at the El

    Jeff Bridges Approves of a 'Big Lebowski' Remake: 'If I Was in It'

    Tommy Newsom, the former backup bandleader on “The Tonight Show” whose “Mr. Excitement” nickname was a running joke for Johnny Carson died April 28 in Portsmouth, Va. He was 78. Newsom, who played saxophone, joined “The Tonight Show” in 1962 and rose from band member to assistant music director. He retired along with Carson in […]

  • 'Milk Bar' Founder Christina Tosi Previews

    Milk Bar Founder Christina Tosi on Opening in L.A. and Whether She'll Do a Cooking Show

    Tommy Newsom, the former backup bandleader on “The Tonight Show” whose “Mr. Excitement” nickname was a running joke for Johnny Carson died April 28 in Portsmouth, Va. He was 78. Newsom, who played saxophone, joined “The Tonight Show” in 1962 and rose from band member to assistant music director. He retired along with Carson in […]

  • Taraji P. HensonTaraji's Boutique of Hope

    Taraji P. Henson Opens Up About Seeking Mental Health Treatment

    Tommy Newsom, the former backup bandleader on “The Tonight Show” whose “Mr. Excitement” nickname was a running joke for Johnny Carson died April 28 in Portsmouth, Va. He was 78. Newsom, who played saxophone, joined “The Tonight Show” in 1962 and rose from band member to assistant music director. He retired along with Carson in […]

  • Channing Tatum on Taking Time Off,

    Channing Tatum Says He's Ready to Get Back to Work After Quiet Year

    Tommy Newsom, the former backup bandleader on “The Tonight Show” whose “Mr. Excitement” nickname was a running joke for Johnny Carson died April 28 in Portsmouth, Va. He was 78. Newsom, who played saxophone, joined “The Tonight Show” in 1962 and rose from band member to assistant music director. He retired along with Carson in […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content