Father and son saxophonists make jazz the family business
By George Kanzler
Sunday, June 17, 2001
Photo by Phil Lanque
Gerry (left) and Adam Niewood relax between sets at Trumpets in Montclair, where they debuted in March.

Niewood and Son.
Sounds like names for law partners or an accounting firm, But not when the father and son are Gerry and Adam Niewood. Their partnership involves jazz saxophones.

Back in March, Niewood and Niewood - the jazz quintet, that is - debuted at Trumpets, the club in Montclair. They also played a gig at the Deerhead Inn in Delaware Water Gap, Pa., and recorded a demo CD to be part of a package distributed to potential bookers and event producers.

Since that flurry of activity, the two haven't had another public gig, but they're looking for bookings.

"I would be happy if things picked up real quick, but I'm young and impatient," says Adam, 24. "There are so few pJaces for jazz musicians to play around here and so many musicians in the area. But things are beginning to materialize."

Adam came up with the idea of a father-and son band based on years of playing with his father at local jam sessions, first at the Peppermint Lounge in Orange and then at the same Thesday night jam session's new home at the Crossroads in Garwood.

"We still go to the Crossroads, too," says Gerry, 58. "We just get together and go out and have a great time. My father and I used to go out and have a great time too, bowling together, but he didn't play saxophone."

Adam grew up in his parents' home in Glen Ridge and now lives with his wife, singer Kay Wolf Niewood, in West Orange, Gerry moved to Glen Ridge from his home in Rochester, N.Y, in the mid-1970s to pursue a career as a musician in the New York metropolitan area.

The elder Niewood is best known in jazz circles for his long association with trumpeter/flugel hornist Chuck Mangione, in whose bands he has been since 1968, appearing on many of Mangione's hit albums. He has worked extensively with many New York-based big bands too, including the Thad Jones-Mels Lewis Jazz Orchestra (later the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra), the Gil Evans Orchestra and David Matthews Orchestra. And he has also done extensive studio and commercial work, from Broadway pit orchestras to weddings and parties.
“I try to cover all the bases and still be a jazz player. I've encouraged Adam to become a better doubler because of the job opportunities, but he's totally focused on jazz and the saxophone; he doesn't want to spread himself so thin.”

- Gerry Niewood

"I've built my career on diversity," says the elder Niewood. "When I came to New York, there was still a lot of work in the recording studios, and because of my work with Chuck (Mangione), I was already a known commodity. And being able to double on all the reeds, like clarinet, flute, piccolo and the whole range of saxes from soprano to baritone, helped me get other jobs, like Broadway shows, when the studio work began to dry up. I stop short of the double-reeds (English horn, bassoon)."

Since 1979, Gerry has also had a steady job with the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra as the lead alto saxophonist, a chair that calls for extensive doubling on piccolo and clarinet.

"It's only two months a year, but that's over 30 shows a week," he says. "And the job is great security. It pays into my musicians' pension and welfare fund and gives me health benefits.

"I try to cover all the bases and still be a jazz player. I've encouraged Adam to become a better doubler because of the job opportunities, but he's totally focused on jazz and the saxophone; he doesn't want to spread himself so thin. Actually I tried to discourage him from going into music - I know all about the frustrations."

Adam's decision to follow in his father's footsteps as a musician didn't come early.

"I was more into bicycles than music as a kid," he says, "and even in high school I wanted to be a bike rider, watched the big races on TV and loved the movie 'Breaking Away.' When it came time to go to college, the guidance counselor just I assumed I wouldn't want to go to music school. But none of the other subjects interested me as much as music, and you can't go to college for bicycling."

After spending two years at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Adam came home to New Jersey and finished his degree at William Paterson University in Wayne, graduating in May 2000.

"I had covered for Joe Lovano as a sax teacher there one semester," says his dad, "and I was very impressed with the program, the faculty and the students. So I was glad Adam was accepted there when he decided to return home." Adam's rather charmed academic life continues this fall when he becomes one of the 18 members of the first class at the new Julliard Institute for Jazz Studies, a joint project of Julliard, the famous New York music school, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. The class will be part of a two-year, tuition-free program, with the members fonning a jazz big band that will perform and tour.

His dad had a very different jazz education.

"They didn't have a jazz studies program when I attended the Eastman School of Music in Roch,ester," says Gerry. "But I was lucky. Chuck Mangione came back to teach at the school when I was there and formed a quartet to play a limited engagement at a local club and invited me to join. We had that gig for two-and-a-half years. What a luxury that was! Studying music theory at school every day and getting to apply my knowledge six nights a week in a jazz quartet."

Now that they have a budding, professional, father-son musical partnership, the Niewoods were asked the inevitable question: Who's in charge? "It was Adam's idea," says Gerry, "and I'm making it a high pliority on my schedule - in fact I gave up a gig with Mangione to play at Trumpets - but Adam is in charge of the band, bookings and hiring the other musicians."

Photo by Phil Lanque
The father-and-son saxophone team of Gerry, left, and Adam Niewood perform with their band at the Trumpets jazz club in Montclair.
"Actually, our musical relationship is close to what it's always been since I started getting into dad's record collection in high school," says Adam. "He'd teach me tunes, often while I was playing drums for him. I've never studied drums, but I like to play them, it's a release for me.

"As far as the tunes go, he's in charge. He knows so many of them that I like to have him pick our repertory."

"I like a lot of jazz composers," says Gerry, "like Benny Golson, Randy Weston, Duke Pearson and Gigi Gryce. I like to go back and study their tunes to enhance my own jazz writing. I also love the American standards by Gershwin and Porter and Ellington. And I take those melodies very seriously, the words too. You have to have reverence for the lyrics because they show you how to breathe and to phrase the melody. Sonny Stitt (the famous, late bebop saxophonist) told me you can't play the melody if you don't know the words. That's something I try to impart to Adam."

One idea the father and son share is to go on a mini-tour, visiting and playing with other father and-son jazz musicians they know.

"We could do fathers-and-sons bands with organist Doug Riley and his son, drummer Ben, in Toronto," says Gerryy. "And in New York state, organist Rick Montalbano and his son, another drummer, Ricky, who's engaged to Jane Monheit, the jazz singer. Or we could hook up with guitarist Steve Brown and his son, the bassist Miles Brown. I love playing with just guitar and bass for a rhythm section."

There's even a possibility right here in New Jersey. Guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli's sons, Martin and John, play bass and guitar, respectively. Meanwhile, Niewood and Niewood are pursuing gigs. And Gerry is hoping his son, with the Julliard scholarship as yet another stepping. stone, will become a well-known international jazz musician.

"I would live vicariously through him," says the father, "because that's what I wanted to do, really, but I put in on the back burner to be a good family man and stay close to home. His success would be my best Father's Day present."
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