Tommy Newsom

Tommy Newsom is best known for his playing in the Tonight Show Band of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, where he occasionally was the butt of jokes as Doc Severinsen's dim-witted sidekick. Newsom was always good-humored about it all, but this particular "gig" covered up the fact that he was actually a pretty talented tenor saxophone soloist. Besides playing with the Airmen of Note during his four years in the Air Force, Newsom studied at the Peabody Conservatory and Columbia University Teachers College, where he earned a master's degree. He spent the 1950s mostly as a studio musician although his playing on a Charlie Byrd Savoy date from the late '50s revealed that he was a strong stylist out of the Zoot Sims school. Newsom was on Benny Goodman's tour of Latin America (1961) and the Soviet Union (1962), and he recorded with Ruby Braff in 1961. In 1963 he joined the Tonight Show Band, where he stayed for nearly 30 years, until Johnny Carson's retirement. Newsom on an occasional basis freelanced and appeared at classic jazz festivals, and in the years after leaving the Carson show, he continued to record. Newsom led an obscure session for Direct Disc Labs in 1978 with the Tonight Show Orchestra and in 1990 cut a Laserlight CD with his "TV Jazz Stars." In 2007 Newsom died of cancer at his home in Portsmouth, VA, at age 78. ~ Scott Yanow

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