Correspondence: On Niewood And Mellett

Gap Mangione writes from Rochester, New York, about the deaths of saxophonist Gerry Niewood and guitarist Coleman Mellett in last Thursday’s plane crash near Buffalo. The three were to have played a concert that night in Buffalo with Chuck Mangione: 

We gathered at the hotel Thursday night. Chuck flew in from Florida to conduct and play a concert with the Buffalo Philharmonic. Janet and I drove in so that we could have a Valentine’s dinner that night and so that I could play and solo in the concert on Friday. Kevin Axt (bass player) and Dave Tull (drummer) flew in from LA via Philadelphia (with a dicey landing in Phila.) and lead trumpet Jeff Kievit, who handles Chuck’s orchestra library, drove up from New Jersey so that he wouldn’t have to deal with carrying all the cases of music books on a plane — the one the others were on.


Kevin, Dave, Jeff, Janet and I met in the lobby and were excited, happily anticipating the fun of doing an orchestral concert with all its challenges and opportunities. 

But a very joyful evening turned horrifically tragic in a way of which nightmares are made…

Although Gerry Niewood usually played and recorded with Chuck, he played on my last three CDs and had great solos on all of them. He also has played concerts with my big band in Rochester and Buffalo. We’ve played together in a variety of settings and formats, mostly with Chuck, for more than four decades. 

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Gerry Niewood            Coleman Mellett

Coleman Mellett had a way of playing extremely difficult music of all genres and styles, with creativity and capability well beyond his 33 years. It was truly a joyful musical treat to be next to him on stage as we were for the 2007 Friends and Love concert at the Eastman Theater (with Gerry) and the November 2008 pair of concerts with the Syracuse Symphony. We would groove off of one another, reaching for things musically, and nodding and smiling when we got there. 

The world lost two most wonderful people and two magnificent musicians.

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  1. Richard Ferricane says

    I saw Gerry Niewood perform so many years ago at a club in E. Paterson, NJ called Gullivers. You could tell he was a very nice guy and obviously so talented. It’s a tragedy that he’s gone.

  2. Peter Ponzol says

    I just learned that Gerry was on that flight. What a tragic loss. Gerry and I go way back to our times in NYC during the 70’s. He did a gig with Gil Evans that I wasn’t able to do. The last time I saw Gerry was at a special Peter Ponzol day in NYC that George Young organized for me. Gerry and his son Adam showed up with the dimensions of a mouthpiece I had refaced back in the late 70’s, written down on an old Selmer price list. A great player and a really wonderful person. My prayers go out to his family.
    Saxophonist Peter Ponzol

  3. Andrew Dowd says

    I am a native of Rochester, New York and now live in Portland Oregon. I just read with horror and deep sadness that Gerry Niewood was on that small plane that crashed just outside Buffalo, NY. I just flew from Buffalo back to Portland two days prior to the crash after visiting family in Rochester. I have seen Chuck Mangione and Gerry Niewood in concert together several times in Rochester- and most recently at the Alladin Theater in Portland a few years ago. Chuck, his brother Gap, and Gerry Niewood all grew up in Rochester and were part of the strong jazz scene that evolved out of the Eastman School of Music. What a terrible, cruel loss. I will now have to dig out my dusty vinyl LP of Chuck Mangione’s Friends and Love concert and listen to it again.

  4. Sari Max says

    I am saddened and feel the loss to the whole musician community as well as those audiences priviledged to have heard Gerry Niewood play. He was a gifted, egoless, consummate human being and craftsman.