David "Fathead" Newman: Keeper of the Flame
AAJ: You have recorded numerous solo albums, including the beautiful tribute to Ray Charles, recently released on HighNote, I Remember Brother Ray]. How do you pick your material?
DFN: Obviously, I wanted to do a tribute to my friend, Ray Charles. I just picked my favorite tunes, and [HighNote president] Joe Fields is always a joy to work with. He lets you do your thing. Over the years, I have written material and performed covers, ranging from Beatles tunes to spirituals. One of my favorites was Mr Gentle, Mr Cool, my tribute to Duke Ellington. I am especially pleased with that recording.
AAJ: Does your rural setting in the Woodstock area inspire you to write music?
DFN: Yes. It is quite peaceful and beautiful here. Nature can help grow some good musical thoughts.
AAJ: In a life filled with great achievements, what are some of your proudest moments?
DFN: I try to be humble. I like being part of a group which achieved great things and made people happylike my whole experiences with Ray Charles; working with musicians like [trumpeter] Marcus Belgrave was always a pleasure. Working with [producers] Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records led to some magical moments, musically. I was nominated for a Grammy Award, working on Bluesiana Triangle, with Dr. John and Art Blakey. I received a Rhythm and Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Awardthat was an awesome moment, too.
AAJ: What advice could you give to an upstart musician?
DFN: Learn the business end of it to keep from starving. Being rewarded properly for your work will keep your mind focused on the positive things. And, of course, play music from the heart. Not everybody can be Sonny Rollinstravel down a path you are comfortable with. Keep raising the bar, but you must also be pleased with your achievements.
AAJ: Any suggestions to get jazz music heard more often in an ever-changing market?
DFN: If I could answer that, I'd be rich! I guess it is important to revisit the past to create the future. The great music of Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra should be played on the radio and their biographies taught in schools. Jazz at Lincoln Center is a wonderful thing, because it is so wide-ranging and promotes music to young people. The framework of budgets is always the most difficult obstacle to overcome. Keep tradition alive through festivals, music clinics and education.
AAJ: I always thought the title of your solo record, Songs for the New Man, succinctly summed up your musical careeralways fluid, diverse and mercurial. How would you like the world to remember David "Fathead" Newman?
DFN: Well...as a loyal and devoted keeper of the flame. As a dedicated master of his craft. As a friend to many. As a man who liked to grow things in his garden.
David "Fathead" NewmanI Remember Brother Ray (HighNote, 2004)
David "Fathead" NewmanMr.Gentle, Mr.Cool: A Tribute to Duke Ellington (Kokopelli, 1994)
David "Fathead" NewmanFire! Live at the Village Vanguard (Atlantic, 1988)
David "Fathead" NewmanStill Hard Times (Muse, 1982)
David "Fathead" NewmanIt's Mister Fathead (Atlantic-32 Jazz, 1958-'67)
Ray CharlesGenius After Hours (Atlantic-Rhino, 1956)