Phineas Newborn, Jr.

b. December 14, 1931 in Whiteville, TN, d. May 26, 1989 in Memphis, TN. In the late 40s and early 50s Newborn, a gifted multi-instrumentalist who had studied extensively, played piano in a number of R&B and blues bands in and around Memphis, Tennessee. He had two brief spells with Lionel Hampton before military service interrupted his career. Subsequently, he led his own small group in New York, played with Charles Mingus, Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke among others, made several records and appeared in the John Cassavetes film Shadows (1960). Relocated in Los Angeles in the 60s, he continued to record with artists such as Howard McGhee, Teddy Edwards, Ray Brown and Elvin Jones.

His career then faltered, largely through a nervous breakdown and an injury to his hands, but the mid-70s saw his return to public performances. Newborn’s early records were marked by displays of his phenomenal technique, while those made later suggested a growing maturity. Unfortunately, the interruptions to his career did not allow his potential full rein, and further illness prevented him from working for most of the 80s. Doctors discovered a lung tumour in 1988; he died the following year. The last years of his life are movingly recounted in a chapter of Stanley Booth’s book on Memphis musicians, Rhythm Oil.