RIP, Gerry Niewood


Saxophonist and flutist Gerry Niewood died in the plane crash in Buffalo last night. He was a wonderful player whose saxophone was heard most famously with Chuck Mangione and on the Concert In Central Park album by Simon & Garfunkel.

Niewood was one of the first horn players I ever knew by name because Paul Simon yells out his name after a solo on that live album. I’ve always been a huge Chuck Mangione fan, too, and own all the LPs that Chuck and Gerry made together, many of them recorded in their native Rochester.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Gerry Niewood in 2004 at Jazz90.1. He was very gracious, humble and funny. I interviewed his son Adam in the fall of last year. He’s also a very talented saxophonist, and he talked quite a bit about Gerry during the interview.

LISTEN to the interview with Adam Niewood. He starts talking about his dad halfway through.

My condolences go out to Adam and the entire Niewood family. What a sad, sad day.

UPDATE: Here are some of the many press stories about Gerry’s passing:

Author: Jason Crane

19 thoughts on “RIP, Gerry Niewood

  1. An old acquaintance, A musical mentor, a true musical genius who was one of the new musical innovators who brought the soprano sax in to a re-birth at a time when jazz fans were searching for a new direction among the metallic sounds of the early seventies. One of the most under-rated soloists who was so melodic in his playing that his improvisations became new melodies of their own. He searched for and found new notes, not in the typical “runs” but explored the fringe of Melodic, Harmonic, Mixolydian and Phrygian modes always coming back to the basic structure of a composition. Gerry was generous in sharing his knowledge and technique to those of us where were young and thirsty for a new and peaceful sound while displaying a uniquely fresh and different palette of tonal colors. I could never get enough of Gerry. Every improvisation was a fresh, new approach, never laying down the same lines. He was an extension of Trane, Shorter, Bechet, and even Herbie Mann. He was a quiet and peaceful soul who didn’t want the limelight but was always there in the section as a multi-reed marvel who mastered all of the woodwinds including the haunting alto flute. Your absence leaves a void that cannot be filled in this lifetime.
    Joe Sorrentino

  2. In the early 1970s, the soprano sax was still a rarely heard solo voice and most of the folks who were playing it were obsessed with sounding like Coltrane on “Favorite Things.” But Gerry’s work with Mangione elevated the jazz-pop stuff with wonderfully melodic and technically challenging improv. He played the keys off that horn, but in a logical and melodic manner that made it seem like there could be no other approach. I wore out several LPs trying to cop his lines. It doesn’t get any better than that. He left his mark and will be missed.

  3. Gerry Niewood –

    I’ll miss you, brother. Every time I was around you, you offered not only humor, comfort, & compassion, but also praise, criticism & emotion. I was humbled by your presence, and am deeply saddened by the untimely manner in which you left us.

    You were a constant rhythmic force of nature, whether on stage, in a quiet room, at home, or even in the car! You are loved & missed.


  4. To Mr. Niewood’s family – I had the great pleasure to meet Gerry just a few months ago: we rode the train in from our New Jersey town of Glen Ridge. I’m a sax player and grew up listening to him and recognized him right away. It turned out my teacher, Frank Perowsky, played with Gerry all the time, mostly with Liza Minnelli – they even took turns schlepping one or another horn they’d be doubling on to pool resources. We just talked the whole trip – the requisite discussion about mouthpieces…but all sorts of things. As it happens, I’m traveling today for a memorial service for my brother-in-law’s father, who just passed away this week, but I woke up this morning and saw the news and I am absolutely bereft – Niewood was and is one of my favorite players, and I too was inspired to play the soprano by him and others. I remember vividly the night his horn was stolen off the bandstand at Sweet Basil’s – some other sax-playing friends of mine and I looked around for weeks for any suspicious-looking characters carrying a soprano, because it was like someone had stolen form us.

    He will be deeply missed.

    With love,
    Tony Orbach

  5. If you’ve ever experienced music under the huge ‘tent’ at Ontario Place in Toronto you’ll know just how magical and experience it can be on a warm summer’s evening as the sun sets, either under the ‘canvas’ or on the surrounding banked lawns.

    I was lucky enough to see the Chuck Mangione show twice there in the mid 70’s and can recall both Chuck and Gerry’s solos drew you into the music. As a lover of any kind of big band sound I was especially transfixed by ‘Bellavia’ with it’s strong emotional component. I must have worn a hole in my LP over the next years. I still have it, as well as many of the band’s other recordings, and now would not part with it for any kind of money.

    Both musicians will be very sadly missed. I can appreciate that Chuck had no choice cancelling the Buffalo performance with the Symphony and imagine that when the gig is rescheduled that it will be packed to the rafters with both tears of joy and sadness as they celebrate the lives of these two so tragically lost from us all.

    I only wish I still lived in the southern Ontario area and could attend the upcoming set of continuous performances there. I’ll pull out my albums and just let myself be carried away on the music.

    My deepest, most heartfelt condolences to all who were touched personally, especially the immediate families, by both musicians and who must be in great sorrow right now.

    Dylan Rivis (66) a Canadian living in Montpelier, VT

  6. So very, very sad. I had just heard him play with Chuck Mangione a couple weeks ago in Morristown, NJ and as usual, Gerry was incredible.

    I had the pleasue of meeting Gerry at Ithaca College in 1985 while I was a student, where we taped an interview with him for the college television station. Gerry was such a great guy and I have always had a great memory of that day – kind, funny and just an all around fine person and legendary musician. I still have that interview on tape. I was fortunate to have met him and we’re all fortunate to have been touched by his music. My heart goes out to his family.

    Gerry will never be forgotten by his many fans.

  7. I was devastated by the news yesterday. Students and friends from all over the US have been calling and emailing me. Gerry and I went to ESM together and played many gigs together – mostly those with Chuck M. I bought my first car from Gerry and several mouthpieces over the years. He was a major influence on my life and a wonderful human being. I honestly believe that he is very responsible for how I play and sound today even though I never studied with him. We exchanged emails only a few weeks ago when I asked his permission to publish a big band arrangement of one of his small group tunes recorded on his first album. He agreed with no questions and actually thanked me for helping him to make more people aware of his music. He had in my opinion the model sound on soprano and a superior sense sense of the improvised melodic line. He was a real musician’s musician to the core and I will miss him greatly and I offer my most sincere condolences to Adam, Gurly, and his daughter who I sadly never met. My heart is with you.

  8. I never met you Gerry but I saw you with Chuck M. many times at SPAC, the Palace and in Boston. You were an inspiration to my own flute playing we will miss you dearly,my prayers go out to your family,God BLESS YOU ALL

  9. Chuck Mangione’s Friends in Love was my first introduction to the world of jazz in my early adulthood. It was Gerry’s ‘dance’ with all the instruments that he played that awed me. Over the years I have searched out his recordings or performance events with great excitement. I had always hoped that others would come to know his wonderfully talented style. The world is shy a great man and there is a hole in the universe that will not be filled.

  10. My most sincere condolences to Mr. Niewood’s family.
    And to all of us who will miss his incredible artistry.

    I remember Gerry’s playing initially with Mangione and then with a stellar group that he fronted, Timpiece. The solo that Gerry blows on Joy is one of the most beautifully constucted improvisations I’ve ever had the “joy” to hear. This man spoke eloquently through music.

    Even though I never had the privilige to know Mr. Niewood, this sort of tragedy brings a large community together in rememberence of a great musician. I know that we all pray for his family and will remember his artistry with tremendous affection.

    Sincerely, Bil Jackson

  11. As a saxophonist growing up in Rochester, I was deeply influenced by Gerry’s playing and presence. In fact, the first jazz solos I transcribed were Gerry’s from “Hill Where the Lord Hides” and “Land of Make Believe.” When I got to meet him years later in New York and play with him, it was thrilling. I especially remember the concert at Avery Fisher Hall in 2004 with Chuck Mangione, where Gerry and I were the two saxophonists. His personality was just like his playing – warm, joyous and real. I miss him dearly. My thoughts are with his family.

  12. This is the most terrible thing… Mr. Niewood made such an huge impression here in Ireland when he was on tour with Sinatra in the late ’80s. With a few days off here, he made many friends and was a great inspiration to me personally (I play flute, and he was, definitively, one of the greatest who ever did it. Damn he was beautiful).
    He also played a quintet gig with the legendary guitarist Louis Stewart – and it was such an event. I’ll never forget that remarkable evening and his kindness and his greatness.

  13. I was in high school when I first heard Gerry Neiwood’s solo on “Hill Where the Lord Hides.” It got me to play the soprano (middle aged duffer that I am)–or should I say, to simply “sing”. Some 30 years later, I’m still walking down the street and singing one of Gerry’s solos (say, from “Land of Make Believe): melodic, lyrical–flowing from the heart. Singing along with him in Heaven is something I look forward to.

  14. I was so sad to hear the news about Gerry. (Just saw his name in the “Taps” section of the Intl Musician.) One of my favorite recordings of all time was the “Chuck Mangione Quartet” which featured Gerry’s song “Floating”. We used to play it all the time in Toledo back in the 70’s. It became a “local jazz standard”. I always loved his melodic playing & seeing him w/ Chuck at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge is one of my fondest musical memories. If anyone needs a chart on “Floating” let me know.

  15. I was just googling Gerry tonight to find out what he’s been doing lately, and was shocked and saddened to find that he had died in the plane crash. Living in Asheville, NC now, that news never reached here. I grew up in Penfield, NY, a suburb of Rochester, with Ned Corman (one of Chuck’s “ringers”) as our high school band director. Gerry was at the Eastman at the time, and came out to Penfield High as a student teacher. Being in the sax section of the band myself, my “claim to fame” is having the privilege of having sat right next to Gerry! I knew, of course, that he went on to play with the Chuck Mangione Quartet, and years later was in a video store which was playing the Simon & Garfunkle Central Park Reunion tape, looked up, and there was Gerry on the screen playing bari sax! When I saw that, I knew he had made the big time. My condolences go out to those close to him.

  16. I am a Brazilian citizen with two passions in life: aviation and music. Writing an article about the Colgan Air crash, I was astounded to find that Mr. Niewood was amongst the passengers. His music, his tone, his lyricism is hauntingly beautiful. His sound was one of my inspirations to start to study tenor saxophone back in the 80’s. Finally, It’s good to learn that, as a human being, he was, judging by the many posts, here and in other sites, a person really loved by almost everyone who had the good fortune to meet him. Dear Mr. Niewood: In the “highway of time”we shall meet one of these days. My heartfelt condolences to all your relatives, friends, students, and hundreds of people, in the US and abroad, that you have inspired with your art.

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