Phineas Newborn Jr. Day

December 14, 1931 – May 26, 1989

A tribute to the superb jazz pianist

Pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. was born on December 14, 1931 in Whiteville, Tennessee.

Newborn, whose father played drums in blues bands and younger brother Calvin became a jazz guitarist, studied piano, trumpet, tenor and baritone sax, settling on the former.

The pianist began his career playing with his father’s r&b band which was on B.B. King’s first records in 1949; he also recorded with Big Walter.

In 1956 when he moved to New York and made his first album as a leader, Newborn was considered a sensation, a brilliant pianist on the technical level of Oscar Peterson but with his own sound.

Newborn’s recordings for Atlantic and RCA during 1956-58 made his reputation and were followed by a 1958 European tour with an all-star group.

The pianist recorded for other labels, moved to Los Angeles in 1961, and made some fine albums for Contemporary during 1961-64 but mental and physical problems (including hurting his hand) led to him having a much lower profile for a decade with two albums in 1969 being his only recordings during 1965-73.

Newborn made a temporary comeback during 1974-79 and then slipped away with just two final records (for Japanese labels) from 1986-87 documenting his final decade.

Here is the great Phineas Newborn performing “Lush Life” with his trio in 1962 during an episode of Jazz Scene USA.

-Scott Yanow