Obituary: Joe Newman

Joseph Dwight Newman, trumpeter, born New Orleans 7 September 1922, died New York City 4 July 1992.

IN THOSE days we all wore white underpants. Consequently I was shocked when I entered the Count Basie band's dressing- room in Blackpool with Basie's trombonist Benny Powell to see a huddle of large men wearing underpants bedecked with goldfish, rainbows and loud check. These were The Giants.

They were looking down benignly upon an altercation between two much smaller men, Joe Newman and Frank Wess, who were also wearing what might be described as exotic underpants. Newman and Wess were The Midgets. In the Swing Era it was fashionable to have band publicity photographs taken with the men arranged in order of height. You couldn't have done that with this Basie band. After Eddie Jones, Charlie Fowlkes and the other Giants, there was a sudden cliff down to the smaller but musically potent Midgets. Frank wrote a feature for his flute and Joe's trumpet which became a jazz hit under the title of 'The Midgets'.

Joe Newman shared with Buck Clayton the distinction of being one of the greatest mainstream trumpeters. True, they had both had triumphs during the earlier age of swing, but it was their eloquent flowering into the new era of the long- playing record which brought them both worldwide fame. Joe appeared on Columbia's unique series of Buck Clayton Jam Sessions, where his warm, legato tone was contrasted with Buck's more incisive and delicate playing. Happily, Newman's greatest years coincided with the upsurge of mainstream and with his worldwide tours in the Count Basie band.

Newman had the finest credentials in the jazz tradition. 'My daddy was a musician in New Orleans, where I originally came from. He played in the first negro band, the Creole Serenaders, to have a radio show in New Orleans.' (Later Joe became the first trumpeter to appear on colour television.)

'My dad bought my brother a Conn cornet, but my brother got so he didn't really want to play the instrument. It just lay around the house until I picked it up and learned to play tunes on it.' By the time he was 13 Newman was winning talent concerts with his trumpet playing. He escaped from a strict Catholic upbringing (the Sisters didn't like him taking band jobs at weekends) with a music scholarship to the Alabama State Teachers College in Montgomery. The college band, which Newman joined immediately, was exceptional. 'The band got to be so good that we could go to a town like Dayton, Ohio, when (Jimmy) Lunceford and all those bands were there, and still have a packed house]'

Newman was ill and could not join his comrades who hitch-hiked to hear the Lionel Hampton band when it played a hundred miles away in Birmingham. But the musicians found out that Hampton needed a trumpet-player and spoke to him highly of Joe. Hampton asked for Newman to go to Atlanta the next night so that he could hear him. 'I didn't have any money, nor did my two friends, but they pawned some of their clothes to get me the fare. It was months before I heard from him, but eventually I joined Hampton in Chicago in early 1941. I was 18 then.

'I stayed with Hamp till December 1943, when I went with Basie at the Lincoln Hotel. What encouraged me to go with him specifically was Lester Young and Jo Jones. Jo came by and said Buck Clayton had to go in the army and would I come and sit in with the band. Basie decided to keep me, and I worked with his band a year or so until I decided to stay in New York and get my union card.' In the Basie band Newman sat next to such established trumpeters as Harry Edison, Ed Lewis, Al Killian and Snooky Young at a time when he was most open to their influence. Newman had many spells with Basie. This time he left when the tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet left Basie to form his own band. Newman went with him, and spent the next few years working for both Jacquet and for the drummer JC Heard, who had the band at New York's Cafe Society. Newman featured on many records with both bands, mainly made for the Apollo label.

Count Basie, whose music had fallen fallow during the late Forties, put together one of his greatest bands at the beginning of the Fifties, and Newman joined it in January 1952. By now Newman was a mature soloist with a trumpet tone almost as beautiful as that of the man he replaced in Basie's new band, Joe Wilder. Newman had begun as a swing musician and, since he had come to maturity during the bop era, was a musical bridge between the older musicians and the younger generation.

During his earlier period with Basie he played bebop, but he later retrenched to an Armstrong/Harry-Edison-influenced style. His solos were poised and accurate and he showed a good sense of form, despite an occasional reliance on cliches, a failing he inherited from one of his influences, the trumpeter Harry Edison. Like Edison he had great strength and control and his use of the valves on the trumpet was superb.

Newman stayed with Basie until 1961, and during this period he made his most notable contribution to jazz. Apart from the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions he was heavily featured in Jazz Studio One, a superb album which set mainstream and modern soloists together for a 20-minute workout on 'Tenderly'. The many albums under Newman's own name (an average of three a year from 1954 to 1957) were of the highest quality, and again mixed mainstream and modern jazz in an appetising blend. To make them he used Basie musicians and the cream of New York players like Al Cohn, Nat Pierce and Frank Rehak. In 1958 when the Basie band was on holiday Newman took a sextet of Basie-ites and Nat Pierce to Sweden for a successful tour under his own name.

The tours with Basie brought Newman to Europe each year, and he met his Swedish wife Rigmor on such a tour in 1954. He loved Europe and his ambition was to settle there to run a 'jazz restaurant' which would feature his playing as an attraction. In the early Sixties Newman and his wife became prime movers in Jazz Interactions Inc (JI), a non-profit making organisation in New York dedicated to generating and maintaining interest in jazz. Newman gave lectures and ran clinics for young musicians for JI and in 1967 he became its president.

He joined Benny Goodman's orchestra for its tour of the Soviet Union in 1962 and, like the rest of the musicians in that unhappy band, was lionised by the Russians. He returned to tour Europe and the Soviet Union with the New York Jazz Repertory, which he joined in 1974, and once again was idolised by the Russians, who were transported by Joe's singing and playing of 'Sweethearts on Parade', played in tribute to his master and fellow New Orleanian Louis Armstrong. (In 1956, Newman had recorded the very successful Salute to Satch album using Armstrong's hit numbers.)

Newman visited Britain regularly and was very popular here. Much in demand for international festivals, he continued to tour as a solo artist until he became ill last year.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent