Music » Critic's Choice

David "Fathead" Newman




Saxist David Newman may never lose his nickname, blurted out in exasperation by a high school teacher after his dismantlement of a short musical passage some five decades ago; but a new reissue, It's Mister Fathead (32 Jazz), which gathers four of his Atlantic LPs from the 50s and 60s on two CDs, at least insists on the appropriate respect. Actually Newman had already bled the original insult of all meaning by the mid-50s, when the young man from Dallas secured a starring role in the big and small bands led by Ray Charles. At that point the nickname could just as easily have referred to the big, blowsy sound of Newman's alto--or, if irony's your bag, to his cool, dumb-like-a-fox update on the Texas tenor sound of his predecessors Buddy Tate and Illinois Jacquet (who also appears in town this week). Newman's previous experience in R & B bands led by the likes of T-Bone Walker and Lowell Fulson didn't hurt his reputation either; in fact, his greatest strength is still his ability to infuse his playing with the musical equivalent of spicy, sweet panhandle barbecue sauce. Listening to those albums now, you can't help but remark on the emotions lurking in his alto tone, the edge of introspection on his tenor swagger, and the hard swing he brings to both horns. Though he's mellowed in the last decade or so, those qualities remain, as does the funky expertise he brought to the flute in a series of soul-jazz records in the 1970s. Newman's versatility almost always assures a certain measure of surprised satisfaction: you go to hear his barreling blues work and stay for the late-night lubricity of his ballads, or vice versa. He'll stand up in front of what has become the house rhythm section at the Jazz Showcase lately: pianist Willie Pickens, drummer Robert Shy, and bassist Larry Gray. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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