A NEWTONIAN UNIVERSE

Trumpeter Frank Newton should have been celebrated more in his lifetime, loved and understood more. I have written elsewhere about his glorious music and his difficult times. And even if you see him as a free spirit, too large to be held down or restrained by “the music business,” a more just world would have been kinder.

But I treasure every glimpse of him. These three are more cheerful than melancholy. The first is from the September 1939 issue of DOWN BEAT, a gift from Mal Sharpe, who also knows the value of such artifacts.

CALIFORNIA 2014 048 (1)

The second and third come from Newton’s final years (he died all too young in 1954) in Boston.  My source here is drummer Walt Gifford: his scrapbook passed through my hands thanks to the kindness of Duncan Schiedt, and I share two priceless artifacts with you.

Walt obviously took part in Frank’s birthday party; this was the trumpeter’s sincere gratitude in a few words:

NEWTON LETTER

The final artifact is a candid snapshot taken in July 1951, when Frank was working as a counselor at Kiddie Kamp in Sharon, Massachusetts:

NEWTON 7 51

Look at those smiling faces! One or more of those children is with us still, although it might be too much to expect that these grown men and women, in their late sixties, would be reading JAZZ LIVES.

Here is an audible reminder of the beauty Newton created — the 1939 recording (with Tab Smith, soprano saxophone), TAB’S BLUES:

Frank Newton touched people’s hearts with or without his horn.

May your happiness increase!

8 responses to “A NEWTONIAN UNIVERSE

  1. Dear Michael
    There is nothing audible on my computer. Luckily I have the music in my own collection. And as you might remember, we had a conversation on the subject which I took the liberty to quote in my COMPLETE BILLIE HOLIDAY DISCOGRAPHY:

    And here’s something special:
    FRANKIE NEWTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA – almost identical with the band playing ”Long Gone Blues” – plays TAB’S BLUES 22 days later. Same tune, same arrangement, new title, and Newton plays where Miss Holiday sings.

    TAB’S BLUES is April 12, 1939.

    “As to why Lips is on the Billie date, I wonder if it’s not the interceding of John Hammond – – – you will notice that (at some point) Newton no longer appears on record sessions that Hammond’s connected with: my theory is that he (like other independent players) offended Hammond by having his own opinion . . . but the dates of the two sessions could contradict this theory and it could just be that Lips was free to do the session!”
    Michael Steinman, author of the ”JAZZ LIVES” Blog

  2. Hey! NOW there’s music!🙂

  3. This is PRECIOUS, Michael! Very best, Mick

  4. re TAB’s Blues – soprano sax looks remarkably like Sidney Bechet !

  5. Don "Zoot" Conner

    Much of the latter part of Frankie Newtons musical life was spent in Boston, or so my sources tell me. He certainly had a great tone:certainly an early influence on Miles Davis and others.

  6. Thanks for the insights and historical jazz documents. Agreed! Frankie Newton’s style was, and still is, under-celebrated. Unfortunately, he’s just one of those guys you never get to hear on those “retro” jazz radio programs. To me, Newton’s “orchestras” showcase his impeccable timing and allowance for creative syncopation and expression.

    I love the alto sax sound of Pete Brown and when Newton grabbed him for his 1937 combo, Frankie Newton and his Uptown Serenaders–what a refreshing and effervescent sound! Be sure to give “You Showed Me The Way” a listen, with Clarence Palmer on vocals; Frankie’s horn run supporting, intertwining and complimenting in a Beriganesque style made his own. One of my favorites for when I’m feeling down.

    I definitely will try to read up more on his life. Thanks again for the post.
    -Ken

  7. Thank you for keeping Frank Newton’s name and sound alive!

    The intelligent warmth and humanity of his sound is instantly recognizable. The brilliant architecture of his soloing which never drew attention to itself, conceived and developed in the wake of far more demonstrative players on his instrument who flourished in the “Age of Louis”.

    An enigmatic figure. Whatever informal research I have done tantalizes but does not lead far. He had an extensive FBI file (has a FOIA request ever been filed?), was a member of the Stalinist CP, associated with “reds” at Cafe Society, dispirited by the racist commercial music business, preferred the solitary world of painting, etc.

    I do hope he somewhere realizes how much he is loved.

  8. I’m sure you’re aware of Frankie Newton’s connection with the late great English historian Eric Hobsbawm, brilliant writer who happened to be an unrepentant communist — and universally admired across the political spectrum. He had a second career writing jazz essays for British weeklies — for which he took the pen name “Francis Newton” in Frankie’s honor. A collection of Hobsbawm’s great stuff, “The Jazz Scene,” is my favorite bedtime reading — and available on Amazon. I wrote about my visit with Mr. Hobsbawm here:
    http://radioopensource.org/eric-hobsbawm-1917-2012-in-memoriam/ — including my presentation of another favorite jazz book: Arthur Taylor’s “Notes and Tones.” The great Hobsbawm told me he read it and loved it “passionately.”

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