Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Mr. Excitement" Tommy Newsom Dies At 78

I'll miss "Mr. Excitement" Tommy Newsom. He passed away from cancer this past weekend.

I met him around 1979 in Shelbyville, Kentucky, at a jazz festival. I was playing in the University of Kentucky Jazz Ensemble and we were one of the featured groups. We played just before Tommy's set. Unlike the "square" image he portrayed on the Tonight Show, I found him to be a pretty cool and hip cat. That night he played alto sax and clarinet. I particularily enjoyed his dixieland clarinet that evening. Also impressive were his big band charts. He was a terrific arranger.

He also played the tenor sax very well. Check him out here playing a gorgeous version of "Here's That Rainy Day" with Doc Severinsen.

From the Associated Press:

Tommy Newsom, the former backup bandleader on The Tonight Show whose "Mr. Excitement" nickname was a running joke for Johnny Carson, has died. He was 78.

Newsom died of cancer at his Portsmouth home Saturday, according to his nephew, Jim Newsom.

Newsom, who played saxophone, joined The Tonight Show in 1962 and rose from band member to assistant music director. He retired along with Carson in 1992.

The Tonight Show received five Emmy awards during Newsom's years on the show.

"I hope he will be remembered as a gifted musician," Jim Newsom said Monday in a telephone interview. "I'm sure he will be remembered for his wit and deadpan humor on 'The Tonight Show.' And to some of us of a certain age, he will always be remembered as Mr. Excitement."

That was the nickname Carson gave Newsom to make light of his low-key personality and drab brown and blue suits — a sharp contrast to the flashy style of bandleader Doc Severinsen.

"He became a running character in Carson's monologue," Jim Newsom said. "Tommy enjoyed that."

Not long after the Carson era ended in 1992, Newsom remarked that his image as an ordinary guy was "fairly accurate — compared to Rambo."

"I realize things have to end sometime," Newsom said at the time. "I felt regrets at it ending and there was a sense of relief in a way."

Along with his work on The Tonight Show, Newsom arranged and composed music for Skitch Henderson, Woody Herman, Kenny Rogers, John Denver and other performers.


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