Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gerry Niewood 1943-2009

I was terribly saddened to read late last night that among those killed on flight 3407, which crashed in Buffalo N.Y. Thursday night, was saxophonist Gerry Niewood. Along with guitarist Coleman Millett, they were on their way to a concert with Chuck Mangione, with whom Niewood performed and recorded with early on in his career.

I went to college with Niewood's son Adam and got to know Gerry a little while in school, and even took a lesson with him after finishing college. A few years later, I found myself sitting next to him when subbing in the orchestra for the Radio City Christmas Show. Over a period of three years, I played about seventy shows sitting next to him, and he was always a great source of warmth, encouragement, sound, professionalism, humor, and a real woodwind guru. He seemed to do things his own way, which isn't something I've encountered much playing on Broadway. I always felt that I emerged a better player after sitting next to him, and he always had something nice to say to me after the show, which meant a great deal to me being so new there.

I'll never forget how five minutes before the Christmas show I was once completely unable to find my tuxedo jacket, which I had taken off and hung somewhere after finishing the previous show. Totally baffled, panicked, and extremely embarrassed, I turned to Gerry for advice on what to do. After chuckling, he pointed me to a costume room upstairs where extra tuxedos were, and I was able to find one that fit to get me through the show. (As it turns out, mine had been hanging on a chair that was moved by the stagehands between shows.) Gerry was the kind of guy who I knew I could go to in this kind of situation, and he was totally there.

It's hard to believe he's no longer with us, and how his life could be taken so abruptly. I know he'll be sorely missed by everybody who knew him and played with him.

Here's the bio from Gerry's MySpace page:

Gerry Niewood is an instrumentalist (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone saxophones; flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo, clarinet) who has lent his melodic invention to artists as diverse as: Chuck Mangione, Peggy Lee, Simon and Garfunkel, Sinead O'Connor, Anne Murray, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Mark Murphy, Gil Evans, Astrid Gilbeto, Judy Collins, Frank Sinatra and Gerry Mulligan to name only a few. Gerry is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music. Following graduation, he embarked on a recording and concertizing schedule with the Chuck Mangione Quartet with which he performed for a total of nearly fourteen years. Six years after graduation, Gerry relocated to the highly fertile music scene of New York City and began freelancing. With so many colors in his Palette, and his adaptability to many musical styles, there has never been a shortage of opportunities for Gerry. But his distinctive voice on one instrument, the soprano saxophone, brought him the greatest praise. He was twice voted Downbeat International critic's poll winner in the category "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" on Soprano Saxophone...//// Gerry's Tenor Sax was heard on the sound track to the Robert DeNero film "A Bronx Tale," his woodwinds in the orchestra for "When Harry Met Sally, "Annie," "Shinning Through," "National Lampoon Goes to the Movies," "King of Comedy," and many others...//// Gerry is the 1st saxophonist of the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra. In that capacity, he has performed with some of the world's most famous entertainers.//// As a composer, Gerry Niewood's works have been recorded by: The Chuck Mangione Quartet, Rare Silk, Lena Horn//// Gerry's resume appears in the Encyclopedia of Jazz, and the Who's Who in Entertainment.

His son Adam Niewood, has posted a page on Myspace that will announce plans for a memorial service. It's here.

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