Monday, February 16, 2009

Jazz Musicians Gerry Niewood & Coleman Mellett Die In Airplane Crash

Gerry Niewood & Me In 2007

I have listened to woodwind ace Gerry Niewood play on Chuck Mangione albums for many years and was thrilled to meet him on a 11/07/07 gig in Lexington. I found him to be a beautiful person and fantastic musician.

I was stunned and extremely saddened to learn that he and guitarist Coleman Mellett lost their lives in the Flight 3407 airplane crash last Thursday. They were on their way to perform a concert with Chuck Mangione.

From The New York Times, 2/15/09, by Nate Schweber, "For Two Jazzmen, Work Meant Life on the Road":

GLEN RIDGE, N.J. — From the day she was born, Elizabeth Niewood kept what she called a “daddy doll,” a cloth figure about 18 inches tall with a shock of ochre yarn for hair and eyes stitched with light blue thread.

The doll was made to look like her father, the saxophonist Gerry Niewood, and was a gift from a family friend intended to comfort Ms. Niewood whenever her father was out of town plying his trade. The doll now has greater poignancy for Ms. Niewood, who is 23: her father was on his way to perform at a concert when he was killed on Thursday night in the crash of Flight 3407 outside Buffalo.

“It was just another outing for dad,” Ms. Niewood said as she cradled the doll and fought back tears during an interview on Saturday on the porch of the beige, three-story home here that her father bought more than 30 years ago.

Mr. Niewood, 64, and Coleman Mellett, 33, were scheduled to perform with the jazz musician Chuck Mangione when their Continental Connection flight from Newark slammed into a house as it approached the Buffalo airport, killing all 49 aboard.

In the world of jazz, the two men were largely successful, able to carve out middle-class existences solely through their music and not needing to rely on day jobs to pay their bills. But their lives as musicians were hardly glamorous; flying in a cramped turboprop plane to play a show in Buffalo in February was not an unfamiliar routine.

Family and friends of both men said they accepted the rigors of life on the road as the sacrifice they had to make in order to create the music they were passionate about.

“Ever since Sept. 11, he said the travel has been harder on him,” said Bob Sneider, a jazz musician and a friend of Mr. Mellett’s who teaches at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. “But music was his passion, and he loved to go and perform for people.” Mr. Niewood had also toured with Simon and Garfunkel and Liza Minnelli and had appeared on “Saturday Night Live.”

He had known Mr. Mangione since they were grade-school classmates in Rochester, N.Y., said Adam Niewood, Mr. Niewood’s son, who is also a musician even though his father had encouraged him to do something that offered more financial security.

“I marvel at the fact that my dad’s mother hardly went anywhere besides her hometown, and he set foot on almost every continent just by playing saxophone,” Adam Niewood, 31, said.

“He’d say, ‘A lot of people have to save up all year to take one vacation; I go on vacation 10 months out of the year and I don’t have to pay, I get paid.’ ”

Mr. Mellett grew up near Washington and studied music at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh before transferring to William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., said his friend and former roommate Paul Wells, 35, who is also a jazz musician.

Mr. Mellett was married to Jeanie Bryson, 50, a jazz singer and the daughter of Dizzy Gillespie, with whom he would often perform. They lived in a ranch-style house in East Brunswick, N.J., a lifestyle that Mr. Mellett found ideal, far from the famed jazz clubs of Manhattan. Though he occasionally taught lessons to supplement his income, Mr. Mellett earned a steady salary from being part of Mr. Mangione’s ensemble. At Mr. Niewood’s prompting, Mr. Mellett also worked with the Radio City Music Hall orchestra during the “Christmas Spectacular” show.

“He loved his wife, he loved his home, he loved the town where they lived, and he loved the life they built up,” Mr. Wells said. “We both shared the common goal of being working New York City musicians. As we got older, we found it was more complicated than we thought when we were 20 years old.”


At July 02, 2017 1:39 AM, Blogger Chris Pritchett said...

How utterly sad. I saw a Chuck Mangione concert in Fort Worth Texas a year or two before this horrible crash happened. How utterly terrible. i despise airplanes. How horrible the beauty of their music would end like this.


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