Eastman School of Music alumnus and accomplished jazz saxophonist Gerry Niewood ’70, age 65, died in an airplane crash on Thursday, Feb. 12. Niewood was one of 49 passenger deaths aboard Continental Connection Flight 3407 to Buffalo, N.Y. He and a close friend, guitarist Coleman Mellett, were on their way to perform with close friend Chuck Mangione’s band in Buffalo. There were no survivors in the crash.
Niewood was an instrumentalist who performed the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones as well as the flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo and clarinet. He graduated from the Eastman School of Music in 1970 with a bachelors in music education with a concentration in saxophone.
During his time at Eastman, Niewood began to grow closer to his childhood friend and trumpeter, Mangione. Niewood and Mangione performed together at the beginning of their careers, but they eventually ventured into different career paths.
After graduating, Niewood spent a portion of his career teaching music at Penfield High School and Denonville Middle School. One of Niewood’s students and pupils from the early 1970s, Terrance Bruce, expressed his thoughts and sorrows in a statement to MSNBC. When he heard that his old teacher was killed, he wanted to connect with him again.
‘I didn’t know what to think,” Bruce said. ‘I was really sad. I went and picked up some of this music that he played in the past to kind of get in touch with him.”
While Mangione was recording his celebrated ‘Feel So Good” album, Niewood developed a successful career as a freelancer on several reed and woodwind instruments. Years later, the two Rochester natives would reunite in concerts and tours, recreating what became known as their ‘Friends and Love” music.
The concert included the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and was originally taped in 1970 at the Eastman School of Music. The duo built a fan base and has been able to achieve success for the past four decades.
Niewood had a diverse career including performances with an array of artists such as Peggy Lee, Simon and Garfunkel, Thad Jones, Sinead O’Connor, Anne Murray, Mel Lewis, Gil Evans, Judy Collins, Frank Sinatra and Gerry Mulligan.
On the big screen, Niewood performed as a tenor saxophonist on the soundtrack to Robert De Niro’s ‘A Bronx Tale.” In addition, he played woodwinds in the orchestra for the films ‘When Harry Met Sally,” ‘Annie,” ‘King of Comedy” and many others.
Niewood was on his way to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at the time of the flight. BPO is a world-renowned orchestra founded in 1935 that has toured across the United States and Canada, including concerts at Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Boston’s Symphony Hall and Montreal’s Place des Arts as well as 22 appearances at Carnegie Hall.
Colleagues remembered Niewood’s creativity and determination.
In the Rochester City Newspaper, Niewood spoke about getting musically inspired.
‘I don’t start to play until I hear something that I want to play,” Niewood said. ‘I try to develop it and have that thread of continuity. I’m not big on the use of pyrotechnics. I’m a melodic player, a rhythmic player, a harmonic player. I’m not a flashy player.”
Soon after the crash, his close friend, Fred Costello, made a statement to MSNBC. ‘Everyone lost a great musician,” Costello said. ‘Those of us who knew him as a friend lost a tremendous friend, [a] very warm person.”
Prior to takeoff, the flight crew of the Continental Express flight faced significant icing on the plane’s wings. The icing on the plane reshaped the wing and affected its aerodynamics.
The plane crash killed 50 people, one of which casualties was on the ground. The incident was the first fatal plane crash in the United States since 2006 and the deadliest since American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in Belle Harbor Queens, N.Y. in 2006, ultimately killing 265 people.
According to the New York Times, an official from the National Transportation Safety Board warned against jumping to the conclusion that ice was the direct cause of the fatal crash of flight 3407. The Board argued that it’s important to consider other factors.
Board member Steven Chealander contends that another Continental Airlines flight using an identical twin-engine turboprop, a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, flew the same Newark-to-Buffalo route just 27 minutes after flight 3407 took off. The plane faced the same winter advisories but managed to complete the trip safely.
Nathaniel is a member of
the class of 2011.