Legendary Harlem jazz trumpeter, singer and conductor Doc Cheatham, 1905 – 1997 (video)


Adolphus Anthony Cheatham, better known as Doc Cheatham, June 13, 1905 – June 2, 1997, was an American jazz trumpeter, singer, and conductor who lived at 50 West 106th Street in Harlem, New York.

He is also the grandfather of musician Theo Croker.


Doc Cheatham was born in Nashville, Tennessee, of African, Cherokee and Choctaw descent.

He noted that there was no jazz music there in his youth; Like many in the United States, he was introduced to the style by early recordings and touring groups in the late 1910s.

He abandoned his family’s plans for him to be a pharmacist (while retaining the medically inspired nickname “Doc”) to play music, initially playing the soprano and tenor saxophone in addition to the trumpet in Afro theater. – American vaudeville from Nashville.

Cheatham then toured in groups 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 game was a revelation for Cheatham. Cheatham followed the Jazz King everywhere. Oliver gave young Cheatham a mute that Cheatham cherished and played with for the rest of his career.

Another revelation came the following year when Louis Armstrong returned to Chicago. Armstrong is said to have a lifelong influence on Cheatham, describing him as “an ordinary-extraordinary man.”

Work with well-known brands

Cheatham played in Albert Wynn’s group (and sometimes replaced Armstrong at the Vendome Theater), and recorded on saxophone with Ma Rainey before moving to Philadelphia in 1927, where he worked with Bobby Lee and Wilbur’s groups from Paris before moving to New York. City the following year.

After a short stint with Chick Webb, he went on tour in Europe with Sam Wooding’s group.

Cheatham returned to the United States in 1930 and performed with Marion Handy and the McKinney Cotton Pickers before landing a job with Cab Calloway. Cheatham was Calloway’s principal trumpeter from 1932 to 1939.

According to a personal discussion with Doc Cheatham, he studied with Max Schlossberg for 6 months in 1931. “I broached the subject, at Sweet Basil, because his tone was like Schlossberg’s; I had heard Schlossberg, my great-uncle, play once at home in 1936. [Norman M. Canter, M.D.]

He performed with Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Fletcher Henderson, and Claude Hopkins in the 1940s; after World War II he began working regularly with Latin groups in New York, including groups of Perez Prado, Marcelino Guerra, Ricardo Ray (whose catchy album “Jala, Jala Boogaloo, Volume II” played exquisitely (but not credited), especially on the track “Mr. Trumpet Man”, Machito and others.

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The first time Cheatham joined Machito’s group, he was fired because he couldn’t keep up with the clave beat.

Cheatham finally took the hit. In addition to continuing Latin concerts, he again performed with Wilbur from Paris and Sammy Price. He led his own group on Broadway for five years starting in 1960, after which he toured with Benny Goodman.

In 1959, the US State Department funded a trip for conductor Herbie Mann to visit Africa, after hearing his version of “African Suite”.

The grueling 14 week tour took place between 12/31/1959 and 4/4/1960. Staff: Herbie Mann, conductor, flute and saxophone. Johnny Rae, vibist and arranger.

Don Payne, bass Doc Cheatham, trumpet Jimmy Knepper, trombone Patato Valdez, conguero Jose Mangual, bongos. Destinations on the official itinerary: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Mozambique, Rhodesia, Tanganyika, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia.

Further work

In the 1970s, Doc Cheatham did a vigorous self-assessment to improve his playing, including recording himself and critically listening to the recordings, and then striving to eliminate all clichés from his playing. paid off, and Doc received increasing critical attention.

His singing career began almost by accident in a Parisian recording studio on May 2, 1977. To check the level and microphone at the start of a recording session with Sammy Price’s band, Cheatham sang and performed is made his way through a few choruses of “What Can I Say Dear After Saying I’m Sorry”.

The miking was good from the start and the tape recorder was already spinning, and the track was released on the LP Doc Cheatham: Good for What Ails You.

His vocals were well received and Cheatham continued to sing in addition to playing music for the rest of his career.

Cheatham has toured extensively in addition to his regular Sunday gig at the head of the band at Sweet Basil in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village during his last decade. During one of his frequent trips to New Orleans, Louisiana, he met and befriended the 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.

The Recording Academy nominated Cheatham for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo and Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual or in Group.

In 1998, Doc received a Grammy posthumously for Best Jazz Solo for “Stardust” on his CD, Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton. His wife Amanda and daughter Alicia accepted the Grammy on his behalf.

Interview with Doc Chetum:


Doc Cheatham continued to play until two days before his death from a stroke, eleven days before his 92nd birthday.

Photo credit: 1) Doc Cheatham. 2) Doc Cheatham, Youtube.com.

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