Thomas Penn Newsom (February 25, 1929 – April 28, 2007) was a saxophone player in the NBC Orchestra on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, for which he later became assistant director. Newsom was frequently the band’s substitute director, whenever Doc Severinsen was away from the show or filling in for announcer Ed McMahon. Nicknamed “Mr. Excitement” by Johnny Carson as an ironic take on his low-keyed, reserved persona, he was often a foil for Carson’s humor. His conservative brown or blue suits were a marked contrast to Severinsen’s flashy stage clothing.

Newsom was born in Portsmouth, Virginia. He earned degrees from the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary (now Old Dominion University), the Peabody Conservatory of Music, and Columbia University. He served in the United States Air Force where he played in the band, and later toured with the Benny Goodman Orchestra and performed with Vincent Lopez in New York. Newsom joined the Tonight Show Band in 1962, and left it when Carson retired in 1992. In addition to Carson’s orchestra, Newsom performed with the orchestra for The Merv Griffin Show.

Newsom was as well known within the music industry as an arranger as much as he was as a performer. He arranged for groups as varied as the Tonight Show ensemble and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, and musicians Skitch Henderson, Woody Herman, Kenny Rogers, Charlie Byrd, John Denver, and opera star Beverly Sills.

Newsom won two Emmy Awards as a music director, in 1982 with Night of 100 Stars and in 1986 for the 40th Annual Tony Awards. He also recorded several albums as a bandleader.

On April 28, 2007, Newsom died of bladder and liver cancer at his home in Portsmouth. He was 78 years old. Newsom had been married to his wife Patricia for 50 years; they had one daughter, Candy, as well as a son, Mark, who died in 2003.

Newsom and Carson used audiences’ low expectations for Newsom to good advantage:

One night Johnny asked Tommy if he wore designer underwear. Tommy: “I put my own designs in them.”

With Buck Clayton and Tommy Gwaltney’s Kansas City 9

With Rosemary Clooney

With J. J. Johnson

With Maurice Hines