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Swingin’ Texas tenor

Wren Wertin

Newman performs tonight for the second Jammin’ Jazz Nights free concert in Sun Dial Plaza in Lionshead.The straight-ahead jazz wizard earned his nickname, Fathead, decades ago in his school’s marching band. Marching along playing a Sousa song, Newman’s music score was upside down on the stand, as he’d memorized it. His instructor, J.K. Miller, was behind him and thumped him on the back of the head.”You’re supposed to read it, not memorize it, you fathead,” he said.Somehow, the name stuck and has become a trademark for the jazz man. He acknowledges that many musicians have strange nicknames – it’s all part of the business. As for Newman, his business is all over the jazz map. He returns to Vail as part of the Vail Jazz Foundation’s (VJF) summer of jazz.”David is equally at home playing bebop jazz, the blues, gospel or R&B and plays them all in a tasteful way,” said Howard Stone, founder of the VJF. “The ultimate compliment you can give to a jazz musician is that when he plays he “swings,’ and David always swings.”He swings on both the alto and soprano saxophones as well as the flute. He began taking music lessons when he was 8.”I’ve always loved music,” he said. “I started out taking piano lessons, but I was teased a lot for it – they thought I was a sissy. I asked my mom if I could play a horn, since it’s a more masculine instrument.”And so he was on his way to becoming a jazz mainstay, first touring around his home state of Texas and later the rest of the world. The genre is special to him, being America’s contribution to the arts.”When he plays the blues there is always a “soulful approach’ to his playing that comes from his Texas roots – they call that style “Texas Tenor,'” said Stone.Newman is a solo act, not needing any kind of backup band to jazz out. He’ll be playing a wide variety of music, ranging from his older recordings up to his most recent release, “Davey Blue.” The album just came out on the High Note label. Davey is a reference to Newman, who can play the blues with style.Vail Jazz Festival organizers don’t often invite back performers from previous years, opting to infuse the local scene with as many new acts as possible. But they were happy to bring Newman back.”David is truly a living legend of jazz, whose stylistic approach to themusic is uniquely his own, but at the same time is tied to the great tradition of jazz of emulating those who went before him and adding his voice to the music, thereby creating the “gumbo’ that we call jazz,” said Stone. Newman lives in Woodstock, N.Y., an artists’ colony rich in music. He’s happy to be returning to Vail, calling it a unique place for a jazz festival.”You wouldn’t expect so many really fine musicians from different parts of the country,” he said.David “Fathead” Newman plays a free concert under the tent in Lionshead’s Sun Dial Plaza at 6 p.m. Music is generally over at 7:30.Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.


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