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Cheatham, Doc (actually, Adolphus Anthony)

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Cheatham, Doc (actually, Adolphus Anthony), famed, long-lived jazz trumpeter, saxophonist; b. Nashville, June 13, 1905; d. Washington, D.C., June 2, 1997. He gained his nickname through having several relatives in the medical profession. Cheatam was originally taught by “Professor” N. C. Davis in Nashville. He gained his first professional experience playing with Marion Hardy’s Band for the “Sunshine Sammy” Show (he later claimed that he worked with Bessie Smith during this period, but this can’t be substantiated), then toured with John “Bearcat” Williams’ Synco Jazzers (c. 1924). After moving to Chicago, he played cornet, soprano and tenor saxophones in Albert Wynn’s Band, then led his own band (1926). He first heard New Orleans-style music in Chicago. From King Oliver’s valet, Cheatham acquired the brass and copper mute he used from then on. He recorded on soprano saxophone with Ma Rainey. He joined Bobby Lee in Philadelphia on trumpet, then worked there with Wilbur de Paris (1927–28). After a brief spell with Chick Webb, he joined Sam Wooding in N.Y. and sailed with him to Europe (1928–30). He returned to U.S. with Marion Hardy’s Alabamians (1930–32), also playing for a spell in McKin-ney’s Cotton Pickers (summer 1931–32). Cheatham worked with Cab Calloway (1933–39, including a 1934 trip to Europe), then joined the Teddy Wilson Big Band (October 1939). After a brief stint with Benny Carter (1940), he worked with Fletcher Henderson (1941), Teddy Hill, and the Eddie Heywood Sextet (September 1943–45). Then, reportedly suffering a nervous breakdown and quitting the stage, partly in response to the changes in jazz styles, Cheatham taught beginners regularly at his own N.Y. studio and worked in the post office. He also played with Claude Hopkins (1946) and then began working regularly in Marcelino Guerra’s Band (1948–50). Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he did a considerable amount of work with Latin American bands, including Perez Prado (1951–52) and Machito. He toured with Cab Calloway (summer 1951), then worked mainly in Boston (1952–55) with Vic Dickenson. During this time, he began a long friendship with George Wein when both played in the house band at Wein’s Mahogany Hall Club; he also had a spell leading Wilbur de Paris’s “second” (“New New Orleans”) band; he was first brought in to second the leader’s brother Sidney, but soon was given more solo responsibilities. He recorded and toured with Wilbur de Paris, including trips to Africa (1957) and Europe (1960); he also toured Europe with Sam Price (1958) and Africa with Herbie Mann’s Latin-oriented group (1960). He led his own band at the International on Broadway for five years (1960–65). He worked regularly with Benny Goodman (1966–67, including trip to Belgium), and toured Europe with the “Top Brass” package (1967). He frequently visited Europe, often with his good friend Sammy Price; it was Price who, during a 1975 recording session in Paris, encouraged Cheatham to make his first recorded vocal, “What Can I Say Dear After I Say I’m Sorry?” Cheatham continued to freelance in many varied musical aggregations, including regular appearances as soloist with Ricardo Ray’s Latin American Band and frequent playing trips to Puerto Rico. Throughout his career, he has taken part in freelance recording sessions with Count Basie, Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Russell, John Handy, Leonard Gaskin, and Juanita Hall, among others. He played at President Jimmy Carter’s White House Jazz Party (June 1978). From the early 1980s until his death, he appeared every Sunday at the afternoon brunch at Sweet Basil in N.Y. Until about 1990, he prided himself on his health and took long walks daily. Towards the end, he could hardly walk because of arthritis, but he avoided wheelchairs and hated a widely distributed picture of him in a rocking chair because he said it made him look old. He last performed on May 31, 1997, at the Blues Alley club in Washington, as part of a tour with Nicholas Payton. The next morning, as he prepared to depart from his hotel for N.Y., he suffered a stroke and died.

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