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RIP Tommy Newsom

Jack Bowers By

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Big bands lost a true and loyal friend when Tommy Newsom died April 28 of liver and bladder cancer at age seventy-eight. Newsom, who gained a measure of fame as the butt of host Johnny Carson's jokes on The Tonight Show about his presumably drab personality and outfits to match, was a superb saxophonist and arranger who was a member of Doc Severinsen's all-star band for thirty years, serving as assistant music director for much of that time.

Before joining Severinsen's orchestra, the Portsmouth, VA, native spent four years as a member of the U.S. Air Force's premier jazz ensemble, the Airmen Of Note, and toured the Soviet Union and South Africa with clarinetist Benny Goodman's orchestra in 1961-62. While with Goodman he wrote "Titter Pipes, a swinging showcase for saxophonists Phil Woods and Zoot Sims. The tune was revived a year ago by the all-female orchestra DIVA on its tribute to Newsom, T.N.T., with Karolina Strassmayer and Scheila Gonzalez sitting in for Woods and Sims.

Speaking of DIVA, Newsom was a staunch champion of the ensemble, lending his support in any way he could and writing a number of arrangements for drummer Sherrie Maricle's exemplary group. To show his versatility, Newsom also wrote charts for guitarist Charlie Byrd, trumpeter Buck Clayton, country singer Kenny Rogers, opera singer Beverly Sills and the Cincinnati Pops orchestra, among others. He was a steady performer as well, in small groups and large, and recorded three albums under his own name for Arbors Records. Farewell, "Mr. Excitement. You will be missed.

Spanish Scenario

On April 22, Betty and I attended our third zarzuela (Spanish operetta) at the National Hispanic Cultural Center's state-of-the-art Roy Disney Center for the Performing Arts. La Tabernera Del Puerto showcased the usual marvelous voices and creative set decoration, but tethered to a plot line that was substantially thinner and less comprehensible than last year's production, La Del Manojo De Rosas ("The Woman With A Rose Bouquet, or something close to that).

For example, one element centered around a tavern keeper passing his daughter off to townspeople as his wife, but as there was no written synopsis with the program, one would either have to have known that from experience or been left in the dark for much of the performance. Fortunately, I'd read a review beforehand so knew what was afoot. Others in the audience may have been more confused by it. In any case, it was well-sung by the leads and supporting cast, with Armando Mora as the tavern's proprietor a standout, as he was in last April's operetta. The libretto must have been racy for its time, as one of its themes was centered around a sea voyage to retrieve a stash of cocaine. Kudos to Teatro Nuevo México for bringing these colorful zarzuelas to Albuquerque, and to Patty Disney for underwriting them. We're looking forward to the next one.

Wandering Further Afield...

As there's not much to write about big bands this month, please allow me to digress even further to share an unpleasant experience I had last weekend at the local Circuit City store. In brief, I bought a Samsung 40-inch HDTV at a good price with "free delivery and installation. So far, so good. But I didn't like the set (the sound system was especially cheesy) so I returned it (in my car) the following day, intent on replacing it with a...let's just say a better model. Imagine my surprise when the friendly Customer Service rep said, "We are refunding — dollars from your credit card. "Hold on, I protested, "that's $225 less than I paid you yesterday! The difference, she explained, was the charge for delivery and installation. "But I was told that delivery and installation were free, I beseeched (should have gotten that in writing). "Yes, she replied, smiling sweetly, "but as they actually delivered the set and installed it"—the two men spent less than ten minutes at my house and connected two wires—"we have to charge you for the service. In other words, delivery and installation are "free as long as the set isn't delivered and installed!

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Tommy Newsom and His Octo-Pussycats

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2005

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Chet Baker Chet Baker
trumpet
Ben Webster Ben Webster
saxophone, tenor
Modern Jazz Quartet Modern Jazz Quartet
band/orchestra
Howard Rumsey Howard Rumsey
bass, acoustic
Larry Bunker Larry Bunker
percussion
Monty Budwig Monty Budwig
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