Band Leader Tommy Newsom Dies at 78 Tommy Newsom, the former backup band leader on The Tonight Show, died this week at the age of 78. Musician Ed Shaughnessy remembers his friend as an innovative musician.
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Band Leader Tommy Newsom Dies at 78

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Band Leader Tommy Newsom Dies at 78

Band Leader Tommy Newsom Dies at 78

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Mr. Shaughnessy, thanks so much for being with us.

ED SHAUGHNESSY: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: So please tell us about your friend, Tommy Newsom. He wasn't really that dull, was he?

SHAUGHNESSY: Oh, on the contrary, he was a barrel of laughs. He had a really good wit. And it often came out even when he was playing that, sort of, a quiet self-effacing foil with Johnny Carson, and many times he got us some really terrific lines. And Johnny just loved it because he was such a contrast to Doc, naturally, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SCENE FROM "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

TOMMY NEWSOM: Are we wearing the same outfit?

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

JOHNNY CARSON: No, your trousers are darker. Where did you get yours?

NEWSOM: Oh, it was in my closet at home, Johnny.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

SHAUGHNESSY: In person, he was a very witty, highly intelligent man. I'd even call him quite an intellectual. And he, kind of, covered this a little bit with his down-home accent and speech delivery. But as the more you got to know him, the more you realize what a widely read man he was, and not only in the area of music but many other things.

SIMON: He was a pretty well known saxophonist by the time he joined up with "The Tonight Show," wasn't he?

SHAUGHNESSY: Oh, yes. He loved to just get in the club with a small group. You know, rhythm and himself, and maybe one of their own, like Snooky Young. And he just loved to play that tenor sax. He was a real master of the soprano sax, which is considered the real mean relative of the saxophone clan. This is very hard to play. And here he is on a wonderful arrangement of "Three Shades of Blue."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "THREE SHADES OF BLUE")

SIMON: It must be hard to lose a friend like this?

SHAUGHNESSY: But I have never heard any better of contemporary music - jazz and/or pops - The Great American Songbook, than Tommy Newsom has done. So many people have commented on what an original version of "Just Friends" Newsom did. And you'll hear the treatment he gives to this old standard, "Just Friend."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "JUST FRIENDS")

SIMON: What made that version original? What do we hear in it when it (unintelligible)?

SHAUGHNESSY: It's hard to describe how a person gets a different version. He has to hear other things in the song than we have heard before. And that's what Newsom could do. He just could expand on a great piece of music and give it something fresh. And I think that's a really rare skill that will live on for many, many years to come.

SIMON: Ed, it's been so nice talking to you. Thanks for taking the time.

SHAUGHNESSY: Oh, Scott, thanks for allowing us to do this for good old Tommy.

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