David “Fathead” Newman Day

February 24, 1933 – January 20, 2009

The soulful tenor is remembered

Tenor, alto saxophonist and flutist David “Fathead” Newman was born on February 24, 1933 in Corsicana, Texas.

Newman, who grew up in Dallas, started on piano, switched to alto sax, and first got called “Fathead” when a school music teacher realized that he was playing music from memory rather than reading the sheet music (which was apparently upside down on his music stand).

His mentor was altoist Buster Smith and, after three years of college, he dropped out to work professionally including with Smith, Lowell Fulson (where he met Ray Charles) and T-Bone Walker.

Newman gained fame during his period with Ray Charles (1954-64), starting on baritone before becoming his tenor saxophone soloist and appearing on many of Charles’ most famous recordings.

His first album as a leader, 1958’s Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David Newman, included his hit “Hard Times.”

Newman, who recorded a two-tenor date with James Clay in 1960 and was on some of Hank Crawford’s early records, was with Herbie Mann’s group in 1970-71, freelanced, did session work (including with r&b groups), and led jazz albums of his own, usually playing tenor and flute.

David “Fathead” Newman is featured playing “Hard Times” on alto in 1993.


David “Fathead” Newman, alto sax
Steve Nelson, vibes
Walter Bishop Jr, piano
David Williams, bass
Eddie Gladden, drums

-Scott Yanow


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