Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Newton, Frankie

Newton, Frankie, trumpet (b. Emory, Virginia, January 4, 1906, d. March 11, 1954, New York). A fine, soulful trumpet soloist from the thirties and early forties, Frankie Newton played on several important recordings, including Bessie Smith's final recording session in 1933, Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" session and Maxine Sullivan's 1937 hit of "Loch Lomond". He also played in Blue Note's Port of Harlem Jazzmen, and played a key role in the formation of the John Kirby Sextet. Later recordings found him in the company of Mary Lou Williams and James P. Johnson. However, the combination of frequent illnesses, a notoriously short temper and a passionate belief in Communist principles may have kept him from all of the performing and recording possibilities his talent would have allowed.

Newton was an intellectual with a wide range of interests, including philosophy, literature and visual arts. Although he could swing as well as any of his contemporaries, he preferred to play muted, whether in a standard cup or straight mute, into a felt hat or in the buzz mute he invented himself. Newton was also one of the first trumpeters to take up the flugelhorn. Unfortunately, there are no recordings of him playing the larger, mellower horn.

Jazz impresario George Wein was one of Newton's best friends, and his autobiography Myself Among Others contains invaluable material about the trumpeter. Jennifer Wagner's monograph The Search For Frankie Newton includes important biographical information, and the Jasmine (UK) double CD, The Story of a Forgotten Jazz Trumpeter is a very good introduction to Newton's music. The set includes Newton's masterpiece, "The Blues My Baby Gave To Me".

Contributor: Thomas Cunniffe