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Gerry Niewood Victim of Buffalo Airline Disaster

Members of the New York jazz community were among those shocked and dismayed by news of a fatal plane accident when they learned that two of their number were among the fatalities in the February 12th crash of Continental Flight 3407. Reed player Gerry Niewood and guitarist Coleman Mellett, en route to a performance with Chuck Mangione and the Buffalo Symphony, were among the 49 people who boarded the flight in Newark, NJ, all of whom perished when the aircraft crashed into a Buffalo house. Reached for comment Mangione could only say "I'm in shock over the horrible, heartbreaking tragedy."

Both of these casualties of this tragedy were highly regarded musicians. Their obituaries appear in two separate articles.

Gerry Niewood was a multi-instrumentalist who performed with equal facility on the entire flute and saxophone families as well as clarinet, although he is probably best known for his soprano saxophone work, twice winning the Downbeat International critic's poll "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" in this category. He was equally adaptable in terms of the genres in which he excelled, having contributed his skills to artists as diverse as Peggy Lee, Simon and Garfunkel, Sinead O'Connor, Anne Murray, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Mark Murphy, Gil Evans, Astrid Gilbeto, Judy Collins, Frank Sinatra and Gerry Mulligan. He was a regular member of Mangione's group.

Niewood graduated from SUNY-Buffalo in 1965 with a BS in Industrial Relations, and went on to earn a a Bachelor of Music degree, with a major in saxophone, from the Eastman School of Music in 1970. Before graduating, however, in 1968, he had already joined the Mangione Quartet with whom he toured and recorded for close to fourteen years. By 1976 Gerry had relocated to New York City where he began freelancing. As a multi-instrumentalist, adaptable to many musical styles, Gerry has always been in demand, at least as a sideman. His tenor was heard on the sound track to "A Bronx Tale," starring Robert DeNero, his various woodwinds in the orchestra for "When Harry Met Sally," "Annie," "Shining Through," "National Lampoon Goes to the Movies," "King of Comedy," and many others. He was the lead saxophonist of the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra, where he performed with some of the world's most famous entertainers. As a composer, Niewood's works have been recorded by such artists as Mangione, Rare Silk, and Lena Horn. He played in the early-1980s Simon & Garfunkel concert in Central Park, toured Europe with Gil Evans, and played with a variety of singers, from Judy Collins to Sinead O'Connor.

It is perhaps unfortunate that Niewood did not have more success in his solo career. He made two albums as a leader for A&M records, Slow, Hot Wind in 1976 and Gerry Niewood and Timepiece 1978, and several for other labels, including Share My Dream (1985); Alone (1988); Essence (1998); and Facets (2002), but all of them remain obscure. He was part of various mainstream jazz projects in the 1970s and 1980s with the likes of Dave Samuels and Joe Beck. But his following with jazz fans was secured more by his work with Mangione, with fellow musicians by his session work. "I'm not big on the use of pyrotechnics," he told an interviewer in 2006. "I'm a melodic player, a rhythmic player, a harmonic player. I'm not a flashy player."

Niewood is survived by his wife Gurly, a beloved pianist and music teacher, his daughter Elizabeth, and son Adam, himself an accomplished saxophonist.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Gerry Niewood
  • Subtitle: En Route to Mangione Gig
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