Most people simply called David Newman, who died Jan. 20 at 75, "Fathead," a name dating back to high school years in his native Texas. He didn't consider it an insult. The moniker came from a band teacher who, after seeing Newman's music sheets sitting upside down on his stand, thumped him on the head and yelled, "Fathead!" Apparently, Newman preferred to learn music by ear.
The early encounter had little impact on Newman's career, which successfully spanned nearly five decades. Inspired by the sounds of bebop saxophonist Sonny Stitt, whose control of the instrument Newman called "superb," he became an important part of R&B crooner Ray Charles' crew in the 1950s; one of their biggest hits was "I Got a Woman."
"As Ray did with the piano, so did 'Fathead' with the tenor sax, on some of the greatest records ever," Joe Cocker, a British rock and blues musician Newman once recorded with, says.
With musical talent that was both versatile and long-lasting, Newman recorded with Natalie Cole on her 1991 hit album Unforgettable, With Love and, in recent years, with other greats such as Dr. John and B.B. King, who called Newman "one of the greats at his craft."
"It was always a treat to have him on one of my sessions," King says. "He will truly be missed."