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The Music of Phineas Newborn and Calvin Newborn: Memphis Legends

6:30 pm – 9:00 pm

Cost: $15
Crosstown Arts Galleries
1350 Concourse Ave., Suite 280
Memphis, TN 38104 United States

Tickets – $15 (purchase on Eventbrite)
Doors at 6:30 pm | performance at 7 pm

Jazz performance celebrating the music of Phineas and Calvin Newborn, featuring Gerard Harris (guitar), Alvie Givhan (piano), Sylvester Sample (acoustic bass), and Renardo Ward (drums).

The Crosstown Jazz Series, presented by Strictly Jazz Entertainment in collaboration with Crosstown Arts, is designed to salute classic jazz music as contemporary musicians perform the work of the legends.

About Phineas Newborn:
Phineas Newborn’s life story is as dizzying as his unique style of piano playing. He was born in Whiteville, Tennessee, 60 miles east of Memphis, on December 14, 1931, but he was raised from infancy in Memphis among a musical family that included his equally talented brother, jazz guitarist Calvin Newborn. By his early teenage years at Booker T. Washington High School, he was not only adept at the piano, but several reed and brass instruments as well.

From the mid-1940s through the early 1950s, Newborn performed with his father, Calvin, Tuff Green, Ben Branch, and Willie Mitchell at the famed Plantation Inn in West Memphis, Arkansas, where dozens of musicians got their start. During that stint as the club’s house band, the three Newborns also played on B.B. King’s first album, recorded in 1949, and followed that as session players at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records. Shortly afterwards, Phineas enrolled as a music major at the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University in Nashville. While there, he worked tirelessly on his classical repertoire and technique, developing a particular affinity for Franz Liszt, whose double and triple octave approach to linear melodies became characteristic of Newborn’s signature improvisations.

The 1950s proved to be the most productive and acclaimed years of Newborn’s life and career. He moved back to Memphis and continued studying at LeMoyne-Owen College, spent time performing with Lionel Hampton’s band, and then, at the urging of Count Basie, moved to the East Coast to be represented by the venerable Willard Alexander agency. His style was bold and percussive while also being spare and feathery. He could wow an audience playing at length with just his left hand; he could rip through speedy renditions like a bebop bomb exploding with both hands.

He recorded albums that drew both critical praise and stirring controversy. He was thought by many to be the only other jazz pianist in the world in the same virtuoso league as icons Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson. In 1957 he recorded “My Lady Sleeps” with a symphony orchestra for RCA Victor. It was reported in the liner notes that the orchestra cheered his playing at the end of each take. The following year he recorded with Charles Mingus and their version of “Nostalgia in Times Square” was featured in the early John Cassavetes film Shadows. That same year he toured Europe with a group of musicians in a production titled “Jazz From Carnegie Hall,” and such was his popularity that he also performed solo concerts in Stockholm and Rome.

About Calvin Newborn:
Calvin Newborn is the brother of pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. (1931–89), with whom he recorded between 1953 and 1958. They also formed an R&B band, with their father Phineas Newborn Sr. on drums and Tuff Green on bass.

The group was the house band at the Plantation Inn Club in West Memphis, Arkansas, from 1947 until 1951. The group recorded as B. B. King’s band on his first recordings in 1949, and also the Sun Records sessions in 1950.

Newborn gave guitars lessons to Howlin’ Wolf and was friends with Elvis Presley, who frequented his gig at the Plantation Inn Club two nights a week. Presley also used to eat at the Newborns’ house and browse their music store for gospel records.

The group left West Memphis in 1951 to tour with Jackie Brenston as the “Delta Cats” in support of the record “Rocket 88”. It was considered by many to be the first rock and roll record ever recorded, and was the first Billboard number one record for Chess Records.[3]

Following this, he played with Earl Hines starting in 1959. In the early 1960s, he toured with Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Forrest, Wild Bill Davis, Al Grey, and Freddie Roach, along with fellow Memphis jazz luminaries including Booker Little, George Coleman. Frank Strozier, and Louis Smith. Newborn also worked with Ray Charles, Count Basie, Hank Crawford, David “Fathead” Newman. Since the 1970s Newborn has remained mostly in Memphis, Tennessee, where he played regularly in local clubs well into the 1990s. His 1980 album Centerpiece hit No. 35 on the U.S. Billboard jazz albums chart, but much of his earlier material was not reissued on CD until 2005. He currently lives in Jacksonville, FL and continues to perform throughout Northeast Florida.

About Strictly Jazz Entertainment:
Strictly Jazz Entertainment is committed to cultivating a growing community in the knowledge and appreciation of jazz. We facilitate dialogue and collaboration between the devoted supporters of jazz and the brand new constituents – those new to the genre – for the furthering of the jazz community. We provide a bridge between leading artists and a community that typically does not embrace jazz by promoting concerts in various venues to generate an atmosphere that is viable for the absorption of pure jazz.

Crosstown Arts