Adolphus Anthony Cheatham, better known as Doc Cheatham (June 13, 1905 – June 2, 1997), was a jazz trumpeter, singer, and bandleader.
After having played in some of the leading jazz groups from the 1920s on, Cheatham enjoyed renewed acclaim in later decades of his career. He himself agreed with the critical assessment that he was probably the only jazz musician to create his best work after the age of 70.
Cheatham was born in
. He noted there was no jazz music
there in his youth; like many in the Nashville,
States he was introduced to the style by
early recordings and touring groups at the end of the 1910s. He abandoned his
family's plans for him to be a pharmacist (although retaining the medically
inspired nickname "Doc") to play music, initially playing soprano and
tenor saxophone in addition to trumpet in Nashville's
African American Vaudeville theater. Cheatham later toured in band accompanying
blues singers on the Theater Owners Booking Association circuit. His early jazz
influences included Henry Busse and Johnny Dunn, but when he moved to Chicago
in 1924 he heard King Oliver. Oliver's playing was a revelation to Cheatham.
Cheatham followed the jazz King around. Oliver gave young Cheatham a mute which
Cheatham treasured and performed with for the rest of his career. A further
revelation came the following year when Louis Armstrong returned to Chicago.
Armstrong would be a lifelong influence on Cheatham.
Cheatham played in Albert Wynn's band (and occasionally substituted for Armstrong at the Vendome Theater), and recorded on sax with Ma Rainey before moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1927, where he worked with the bands of Bobby Lee and Wilber de Paris before moving to New York City the following year. After a short stint with Chick Webb he left to tour
with Sam Wooding's band.
Cheatham returned to the
States in 1930, and played with Marion Handy
and McKinney's Cotton Pickers
before landing a job with Cab Calloway. Cheatham was Calloway's lead trumpeter
from 1932 through 1939.
He performed with Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Fletcher Henderson, and Claude Hopkins in the 1940s; after World War II he started working regularly with Latin bands in New York City, including the bands of Perez Prado, Marcelino Guerra, Ricardo Ray (on whose catchy, hook-laden album "Jala, Jala Boogaloo, Volume II", he played exquisitely (but uncredited), particularly on the track "Mr. Trumpet Man"), Machito, and others. The first time Cheatham joined Machito's band, he was fired because he couldn't cope with clave rhythm. Cheatham eventually got the hang of it though. In addition to continuing Latin gigs, he played again with Wilbur de Paris and Sammy Price. He led his own band on Broadway for five years starting in 1960, after which he toured with Benny Goodman.
In the 1970s, Doc Cheatham made a vigorous self-assessment to improve his playing, including taping himself and critically listening to the recordings, then endeavoring to eliminate all clichés from his playing. The discipline paid off, and Doc received ever-improving critical attention.
His singing career began almost by accident in a
recording studio on 2 May 1977.
As a level and microphone check at the start of a recording session with Sammy
Price's band, Cheatham sang and scatted his way through a couple of choruses of
"What Can I Say Dear After I Say I'm Sorry". The miking happened to
be good from the start and the tape machine was already rolling, and the track
was issued on the LP Doc Cheatham: Good for What Ails You. His singing was well
received and Cheatham continued to sing in addition to play music for the rest
of his career.
Cheatham toured widely in addition to his regular Sunday gig leading the band at Sweet Basil in
Greenwich Village in his final decade. During one of his
frequent trips to ,
he met and befriended young trumpet virtuoso Nicholas Payton. In 1996 the two
trumpeters and pianist Butch Thompson recorded a CD for Verve Records, Doc
Cheatham and Nicholas Payton, which won them a Grammy Award. New Orleans, Louisiana
Cab Calloway v, dir / Edwin Swayzee, Lammar Wright, Doc Cheatham t / De Priest Wheelr, Harry White tb / Eddie Barefield cl, as, bar / Arville Harris cl, as /Andrew Brown bcl, ts / Walter Thomas as, ts, bar, f / Bennie Payne p / Morris White bj / Al Morgan sb / Leroy Maxey d.
Recorded in New York on November 15, 1932.
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