You’ve reached a Premium article. To continue reading, please login or start a 3-MONTH TRIAL SUBSCRIPTION for just 99 cents/month. You’ll receive unlimited digital access plus a complimentary issue of our award-winning print magazine.
Join Our Newsletter
Join thousands of other jazz enthusiasts and get new music, artists, album, events and more delivered to your inbox.
By Bob Weinberg
His praises were sung by no less an authority than Count Basie, he worked in a duo with Charles Mingus and, upon his 1956 debut recording, Ralph J. Gleason raved in Down Beat, “he has a command of the instrument to make other pianists weep.” While Phineas Newborn Jr. didn’t achieve the canonization of some of his peers, his stunning, soulful virtuosity earns him a spot in the pantheon.
That virtuosity is on full display on A World of Piano!, Newborn’s first album for Contemporary, which was recently reissued by the Craft label. From Track 1, Newborn’s two-handed attack leaps from the grooves with a sizzling, bluesy take on Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl,” his bebop intensity matched by bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones throughout Side 1; bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes race the pulse on the flip. All involved held bop as the lingua franca, and they speak it fluently on thrilling, highly caffeinated takes of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca,” Clifford Brown’s “Dahoud” and Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo.”
Art Tatum and Bud Powell provide guideposts for Newborn’s energetic attack, which packs a vigorous left-hand that aligns him with the (slightly) older Horace Silver, whose “Juicy Lucy” he unfurls here at a (slightly) relaxed tempo. But it’s not all go-go-go, as Newborn essays Billy Strayhorn’s rueful nightlife lament “Lush Life,” which begins with a nod to Ravel, the pianist remaining unaccompanied until he reaches the chorus and giving lie to criticism that he was more flash than substance. Penned by the bassist Leroy Vinnegar, “For Carl,” a lively jazz waltz, also drives home the point, the piece serving as an elegy to a pianist much admired by Newborn, Carl Perkins, who died at age 29.
Newborn (whose first name is pronounced FINE-us) continued to perform and record, cherished by aficionados but hardly a household name when he died at the age of 57 in 1989. With luck, this Craft reissue will bring renewed attention to a jazz piano titan.