Phineas Newborn, Jr.

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Phineas Newborn, Jr.
Born (1931-12-14)December 14, 1931
Whiteville, Tennessee
United States
Died May 26, 1989(1989-05-26) (aged 57)
Memphis, Tennessee
United States
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Piano
Associated acts

Phineas Newborn, Jr. (December 14, 1931 – May 26, 1989) was an American jazz pianist, whose principal influences were Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, and Bud Powell.


Newborn came from a musical family: his father, Phineas Newborn, Sr., was a blues musician and his younger brother, Calvin, a jazz guitarist. Phineas studied piano as well as trumpet, and tenor and baritone saxophone.

Before moving on to work with Lionel Hampton, Charles Mingus, and others, Newborn first played in an R&B band led by his father on drums, with his brother Calvin on guitar, Tuff Green on bass, Ben Branch and future Hi Records star Willie Mitchell. The group was the house band at the now famous Plantation Inn Club in West Memphis, Arkansas, from 1947 to 1951, and recorded as B. B. King's band on his first recordings in 1949, as well as the Sun Records sessions in 1950.[1] They left West Memphis in 1951 to tour with Jackie Brenston as the "Delta Cats" in support of the record "Rocket 88", recorded by Sam Phillips and considered by many to be the first ever rock & roll record (it was the first Billboard No. 1 record for Chess Records).[2]

Among his earliest recordings, from the early 1950s, are those for Sun Records with blues harmonica player Big Walter Horton, We Three (as a trio with drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Paul Chambers), and his debut as a solo artist on RCA Victor, Phineas' Rainbow.

From 1956, Newborn began to perform in New York City, making his first album as a leader in that year. His trios and quartets at that time included Oscar Pettiford, Kenny Clarke, George Joyner and Philly Joe Jones.[3] Newborn created enough interest internationally to work as a solo pianist in Stockholm in 1958 and in Rome the following year.

On March 16, 1960, 29-year-old Newborn replaced Thelonious Monk and performed "It's Alright with Me" on the ABC-TV series, "Music for a Spring Night." [4] Newborn moved to Los Angeles that year, and recorded a sequence of piano trio albums for the Contemporary label. However, some critics found his playing style rather facile, and Newborn developed emotional problems as a result, necessitating his admission to the Camarillo State Mental Hospital for some periods. He also suffered a hand injury which hindered his playing.

Newborn's later career was intermittent due to ongoing health problems. This is most true of the period from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s when he faded from view, underappreciated and underrecorded. He made a partial comeback in the late 1970s and early 1980s, although this return apparently failed to benefit his financial situation.[5] He died in 1989 after the discovery of a growth on his lungs and was buried in Memphis National Cemetery.


According to jazz historian Nat Hentoff, Newborn's plight spurred the 1989 founding of the Jazz Foundation of America, a group dedicated to helping with the medical bills and other financial needs of retired jazz greats. In the early 1990s the four-player Contemporary Piano Ensemble was formed by pianists Harold Mabern, James Williams, Mulgrew Miller, and Geoff Keezer to pay tribute to Newborn; it recorded two albums and toured internationally.[6]


Despite his setbacks, many of Newborn's records, such as The Great Jazz Piano of Phineas Newborn, Jr and Phineas' Rainbow, remain highly regarded. Jazz commentator Scott Yanow even referred to Newborn as "one of the most technically skilled and brilliant pianists in jazz."[7] Evidence of his technical prowess can be heard on tracks such as "Sometimes I'm Happy" on Look Out – Phineas Is Back! where Newborn performs extended, complex, and brisk solos with both hands in unison. Leonard Feather once said of him, "In his prime, he was one of the three greatest jazz pianists of all time."[8] And Oscar Peterson himself said, "If I had to choose the best all-around pianist of anyone who's followed me chronologically, unequoivocally ... I would say Phineas Newborn, Jr."[9]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Notes
1956 Here Is Phineas Atlantic Quartet, with Calvin Newborn (g), Oscar Pettiford (b), Kenny Clarke (d). LP 1235
1956 Phineas' Rainbow RCA Victor Quartet, with Calvin Newborn (g), George Joyner (b), Philly Joe Jones (d). LPM 1421
1957 While My Lady Sleeps RCA Victor Trio and String Section, with George Joyner (b), Alvin Stoller (d) and strings arranged and conducted by Dennis Farnon. LPM 1474
1957 Phineas Newborn, Jr. Plays Harold Arlen's Music from Jamaica RCA Victor With orchestra: Ernie Royal (tp), Nick Ferrante (tp), Jimmy Cleveland (tb), Sahib Shihab (as, bars, cl, bcl), Jerome Richardson (ts, fl), Les Spann (g), George Duvivier (b), Osie Johnson (d), Francisco Pozo and Willie Rodriguez (per). LPM 1589
1958 Fabulous Phineas RCA Victor Quartet, with Calvin Newborn (g), George Joyner (b), Denzil Best (d). LPM 1873
1958 Phineas Newborn Plays Again! Edizioni Dell'Isola (Italy) Trio, with Carlo Loffredo (b), Sergio Pisi (d). EIJ 2024 - released 1978
1958 Stockholm Jam Session Volume 1 SteepleChase Sextet, with Benny Bailey (t), Oscar Pettiford (b) Rune Carlsson (d). SCCD-36025 - released 1992
1958 Stockholm Jam Session Volume 2 SteepleChase Sextet, with Benny Bailey (t), Oscar Pettiford (b) Rune Carlsson (d). SCCD-36026 - released 1993
1959 Piano Portraits by Phineas Newborn Roulette Trio, with John Simmons (b) and Roy Haynes (d). R 52031
1959 I Love a Piano Roulette Trio, with John Simmons (b) and Roy Haynes (d). R 52043
1961 A World of Piano! Contemporary Trios, with Paul Chambers (b), Philly Joe Jones (d); Sam Jones (b), Louis Hayes (d). S7600
1961 The Great Jazz Piano of Phineas Newborn Jr. Contemporary Trios, with Leroy Vinnegar (b), Milt Turner (d); Sam Jones (b), Louis Hayes (d). S-7611
1964 The Newborn Touch Contemporary Trio, with Leroy Vinnegar (b), Frank Butler (d). S7615
1969 Please Send Me Someone to Love Contemporary Trio, with Ray Brown (b), Elvin Jones (d). S 7622
1969 Harlem Blues Contemporary Trio, with Ray Brown (b) and Elvin Jones (d). C 7634 - released 1975
1974 Solo Piano Atlantic Solo. SD 1672
1975 Solo L+R (Germany) Solo. CDLR 45020 - released 1990
1976 Back Home Contemporary Trio, with Ray Brown (b), Elvin Jones (d). C 7648
1976 Look Out - Phineas Is Back! Pablo Trio, with Ray Brown (b), Jimmie Smith (d). 2310-801
1977 Phineas Is Genius Philips (Japan) Trio, with Allen Jackson (b), Clarence Johnston (d). RJ-7420
1979 Tivoli Encounter Storyville (Denmark) Trio, with Jesper Lundgaard (b), Bjarne Rostvold (d). STCD 8221
1986 C Jam Blues Paddle Wheel (Japan) Trio, with Ray Brown (b), Marvin "Smitty" Smith (d). 22OR-50511
1987 I've Something to Say EmArcy (Japan) Trio, with Jamil Nasser (b) Tony Reedus (d). 20PJ-10148

As sideman[edit]

Year recorded Leader Title Notes
1958 Oscar Pettiford First Bass Quintet and Trio, with Lee Konitz (as), Zoot Sims (ts), Kenny Clarke (b). Live recordings released 1995 IAJRC CD 1010
1958 Roy Haynes We Three Trio, with Paul Chambers (b). New Jazz NJLP 8210
1959 Young Men from Memphis Down Home Reunion Octet and Quartet, with Booker Little (t), Louis Smith (t), Frank Strozier (as), George Coleman (ts), Calvin Newborn (g), George Joyner (b), Charles Crosby (d). United Artists UAL 4029
1961 Howard McGhee & Teddy Edwards Together Again!!!! Quintet, with Ray Brown (b), Ed Thigpen (d). Contemporary M 3588
1961 Howard McGhee Maggie's Back in Town!! Quartet, with Leroy Vinnegar (b), Shelly Manne (d). Contemporary M 3596
1961 Helyne Stewart Love Moods Quartet, with Teddy Edwards (ts, arr), Leroy Vinnegar (b) Milt Turner (d). Contemporary M 3601
1961 Teddy Edwards Good Gravy! Quartet, with Leroy Vinnegar (b), Milt Turner (d). Contemporary M 3592


  1. ^ Robins, Wayne (Spring 1999). "Talk to the Boss: His Majesty Mr. King". Blues Access (37). 
  2. ^ Franklin, Dale. Memphus and the Great Gathering of the Blues People 1 (1st ed.). CreateSpace. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-4414-9218-0. 
  3. ^ "Phineas Newborn, Jr. Discography". JAZZDISCO. Retrieved 11 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin Kelley
  5. ^ Wilson, John S. (27 May 1984). "Critics' Choices". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ "Contemporary Piano Ensemble". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 11 March 2013. 
  7. ^ "Phineas Newborn, Jr. Biography". Pandora Radio. Pandora Media, Inc. Retrieved 11 March 2013. 
  8. ^ "Phineas Newborn, Jr., 57, Top Jazz Pianist". The New York Times. 28 May 1989. 
  9. ^ Lyons, Len. The Great Jazz Pianists, Da Capo Press, Inc., 1983, p. 141.

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