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Johnny Carson's Foil/Underrated ArrangerCopyright © 2007
It is the rare second banana in jazz who becomes a household name, but late-night television host Johnny Carson ensured that Tommy Newsom's name was known to millions.
Newsom's occasional role as stand-in for regular Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinsen -- and butt of countless Carson jokes about his bland fashion sense and lack of charisma -- belied a musician whose deft hand at arranging served numerous groups well. From his early tenure with Benny Goodman's band to his late-career work writing charts for the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, Newsom was known as a consummate professional.
Newsom got his first saxophone when he was eight, and by 13 he was performing with older musicians around his native Portsmouth, Virginia. He earned a music degree from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore in 1952, and after a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force as a member of Airmen of Note he graduated with a master's degree from Columbia University. He toured Latin America and the Soviet Union with Goodman, and made the jump to television in when he joined the band on Merv Griffin's afternoon talk show. In April 1962, he moved to the band on Tonight, six months before Carson took over as host.
In 1968, he switched from tenor to alto sax and assumed the roles of assistant conductor and principal arranger for Carson's studio orchestra. He remained with the show until Carson's retirement in May 1992.
Over his career, Newsom published hundreds of compositions and arrangements, and he won two Emmy Awards for his work.
He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Patricia, and their daughter Candy.