Biographical / Historical
Adolphus "Doc" Cheatham (1905-1997) was born in Nashville, Tennessee. He grew up playing trumpet and saxophone in the pit orchestra of the Bijou Theater where he accompanied such blues artists as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. His first professional break was with Marion Hardy's band for the Sunshine Sammy Revue.
After touring with Hardy's band in 1924, Cheatham taught himself to read music and moved to Chicago, where he became acquainted with Louis Armstrong. Under the influence of Armstrong, Cheatham decided to play trumpet exclusively and eventually subbed for Armstrong. While in Chicago, Cheatham also worked with Wilbur De Paris and Chick Webb. Between 1927 and 1930 he toured Europe as the lead trumpet player for Sam Wooding.
When Cheatham returned to the United States in 1930, he joined Marion Hardy's Alabamians, but eventually took a position in McKinney's Cotton Pickers. In 1933 he joined Cab Calloway's Orchestra and toured with him for nine years, including a tour of South America. Cheatham took a few months off in 1933 but soon found himself in recording studios with such jazz legends as Count Basie and Billie Holiday. During recording sessions and performances throughout the 1940s Cheatham continued to develop his skills as a trumpet soloist in big bands and smaller ensembles.
The eventual decline of big bands in the 1950s led Cheatham to explore Latin music. As a result, he performed with Marcelino Guerra, Perez Prado, and Machitos Band. Cheatham reunited with Wilbur De Paris in 1957 for a tour of Africa and in the following year he toured Europe with Sammy Price. In 1960 he returned to Africa with Herbie Mann and later moved to New York where he led his own band.
During the 1960s Cheatham decided to build on his past music influences to improve himself as a soloist and improviser. Consequently, he gained an international reputation as a trumpet soloist. It was at this time that he also began singing on his recordings. Throughout the rest of his career he remained in high demand on the concert and festival circuit.
Cheatham continued performing and recording into the 1990s. Every Sunday for the last years of his life he played at Sweet Basil, his "hangout" club in New York. In 1996 he recorded an album with then newcomer Nicholas Payton. However, the morning after a 1997 concert with Payton in Washington, D.C. Cheatham suffered a fatal stroke. He did not live to see his collaboration with Payton receive a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance in 1998.