alley musician Ethan Newman didn’t think he was anyone special. He turned down interviews because he believed he wasn’t newsworthy.
But Newman, who frequently played Larry’s Cocktails near Cave Creek and Jolie’s Place in Chandler, was someone special. When word of his Dec. 29 death at age 46 of COVID-19 hit social media, his feed was a never-ending series of eulogies. Within 24 hours, there were 657 comments on his Facebook page—a true testament to his musicianship, friendship and kindness.
“Our hearts are broken,” started the post about his death.
“He fought as hard as he could until the very end, and we will be forever grateful to the Banner Desert staff who took such good care of him for the past few weeks.
“Our lives, our hearts and the music world will never be the same from this. The joy and love that he brought to others is unmatched, and we are comforted by knowing that he brought smiles to the faces of everyone he met.”
Newman was a multi-instrumentalist who played electric bass and acoustic guitar. According to his bandsintown page, he grew up playing “country-metal” on Prescott’s Whiskey Row.
He was an alumnus of Azz Izz, the Robert Street Band, Zowie Bowie, Mogollon, Tate, Capital Down, Delcoa and Easton Ashe. He called himself “mildly dyslexic and profoundly left-handed” and played “backward, upside-down, confusing-reverse” bass and guitar.
As a testament to his heart, Newman was a Department of Defense volunteer who played for U.S. military personnel in Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Guam, Bosnia, Kosovo, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Qatar and Djibouti.
“He was just an amazing talent,” said Josh Kennedy of the Tempe rock band The Black Moods. They met at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences. He is also reeling over the death of Lawrence Zubia of the Pistoleros.
“Later on, once I graduated and started playing around Phoenix, we started running into each other. He was just the nicest guy ever. For me, that was two days in a row I lost a good friend of mine. I’m in Missouri right now, in a small town, and I feel so removed from it. It just doesn’t seem real.”
Jolie Grant, who owns Jolie’s Place, said she feels very lucky to have known Newman.
“He was one of the kindest people I’ve ever know,” she said. “He had a wonderful way of making others feel special. It was normal for Ethan to go out of his way to let you know what an amazing job you were doing as a friend, co-worker or business owner. He made sure you knew you were extraordinary. That is Ethan.
“Ethan, the musician, couldn’t help but bring a smile to your face. He was not only incredibly talented musically, but a showman as well. If he wasn’t inspiring you to sing along and dance, he was cracking you up. He’s held a spot on the patio at Jolie’s Place every Saturday afternoon with George Brunson for many years, and he is loved and admired by every person that has crossed the threshold of JP. If you met him, you loved him; there was no other option. We will all miss him wholeheartedly, and the music scene in AZ will never be the same without him.”
Fellow musician Jay Allan and Newman were best friends for 20 years. The two met at an open mic at the now-shuttered Jilly’s American Grill just before Allan moved briefly to Costa Rica. When Allan returned to the Valley, he saw Newman at the same open mic; and they were inseparable since then. Both times, Allan was with a girl, who told him upon his return that she had met someone else.
“I was sitting there broken-hearted and in walked Todd (Miller) and Ethan,” Allan recalled. “They said, ‘Hey, Costa Rica.’ That night we played music all night and hung out until 4 a.m. We became best friends and started many bands together.
“He pushed me to remain here and to pursue being more of a singer-songwriter. He helped me get a lot of my first gigs.”
When Allan’s guitar was stolen, Newman and Miller surprised the North Phoenix resident with $500 each to replace it.
“That’s the guy he was,” Allan said about Newman. “He was that guy who could make anyone in the room feel like they were the most important person there.
“Everybody remembers the time they met Ethan Newman. He was a unicorn of a human being. He was such an integral part (of the music scene). Everybody had a connection to him, and it was always honest and genuine.”