Phineas Newborn Jr.’s technical command of the keyboard placed him alongside the greatest virtuosos of piano jazz, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson. Newborn combined this raw skill with sensitivity and harmonic insights to create a style which continues to inspire admiration in every setting. One of the most technically skilled and brilliant pianists in jazz. Newborn’s bop-based style was largely unclassifiable, his technique was phenomenal, and he was very capable of enthralling an audience playing a full song with just his left hand or complex, and brisk solos with both hands in unison.
Newborn’s later career was intermittent due to ongoing health problems. Despite his setbacks, many of his records, such as The Great Jazz Piano of Phineas Newborn, Jr and Phineas’ Rainbow, remain highly regarded. Jazz commentator Scott Yanow even referred to Newborn as “one of the most technically skilled and brilliant pianists in jazz.”Evidence of his technical prowess can be heard on tracks such as “Sometimes I’m Happy” on Look Out – Phineas is Back! where Newborn performs extended, complex, and brisk solos with both hands in unison.
Spending most of his time in Memphis, he was an inspiration to many younger pianists including James Williams, Harold Mabern, Mulgrew Miller, Donald Brown, and Geoff Keezer, who after Newborn’s death would dedicate their work as the Contemporary Piano Ensemble to him.
Phineas demonstrates all the virtues and none of the handicaps (if there are any) inherent in knowing how to use the piano. Taking him on his own terms, he’s an involved, committed artist, for whom the instrument is virtually an extension of the man.
Leonard Feather once said of him “In his prime, he was one of the three greatest jazz pianists of all time.”