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Chronology: James Newton’s Lonely Path

In his debut column for JazzTimes, Ethan Iverson examines the fearless flutist’s influential yet underappreciated legacy

James Newton (photo: Eron Rauch)

James Newton is still best-known for a remarkable series of jazz albums recorded in the 1970s and 1980s, when the flutist was aligned with fearlessly creative musicians like Arthur Blythe, Henry Threadgill, David Murray, Amina Claudine Myers, Anthony Davis, and Abdul Wadud. In order to forge a unique voice on his instrument, Newton drew inspiration from the effusive bird calls of Eric Dolphy; his virtuoso solo recitals, such as Axum and Echo Canyon, are in a luminous category of one.

The American jazz critics appreciated the work of Newton and his community. The high-end Gramavision release I’ve Known Rivers by Newton, Davis, and Wadud was a talking point of the era. Newton’s debut on Blue Note, The African Flower: The Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, won DownBeat’s album of the year in 1986.

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Ethan Iverson

Ethan Iverson

Ethan Iverson has been writing about jazz for 15 years, mostly on his blog Do the Math. While he was the founding pianist of the Bad Plus, these days Iverson performs in a duo with Mark Turner and in Billy Hart’s quartet, has a longstanding relationship with Mark Morris, and teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music.