This week we appreciate three legends of jazz as we welcome our first inductees into the Riverwalk Jazz Hall of Fame. Our MVPs, Most Valued Players, that is are—trumpeter Doc Cheatham, bassist and composer Bob Haggart and vocalist Joe Williams.
Adophus “Doc” Cheatham (1905-1997) was a walking encyclopedia of jazz history. He rubbed shoulders in Chicago with King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton. He played behind blues queens Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith and toured with Cab Calloway. Then, at the age of 60, he joined the Benny Goodman Orchestra and his talent really began to blossom. Never out of work, he kept on recording and performing for three more decades, right up to the night before he passed away. We were lucky to work with Doc at The Landing when he was 85 years old.
Jim Cullum says, “Doc was full of stories and lore from the early jazz days. He had known Louis and Lil from the mid ’20s during his first visits to Chicago. No one was more colorful or more fun. His playing got better in his old age.”
Bassist, composer and arranger Bob Haggart (1914-1998) launched his career playing with the Bob Crosby Orchestra and the Bob Cats in the 1930s. His buoyant, swinging style on bass made him a winner in jazz polls and led to recording sessions with Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. But his abilities as an arranger and composer proved him to be far more than a talented sideman. He earned his place in jazz history with compositions like “Big Noise from Winnetka” and “South Rampart Street Parade.” And Haggart’s 1939 mega-hit “What’s New?” with lyrics by Johnny Burke, has been recorded by artists from Billie Holiday to Linda Ronstadt.
Jim Cullum knew Bob Haggart quite well. Jim says, “He was a consummate gentleman and dedicated musician. By the time he started playing with us he was famous. He played with great drive and energy and enjoyed the music and the life.”
Vocalist Joe Williams (1918-1999) just knew he would have a career in music the moment he began to meet stars at Chicago’s Regal Theater where he worked as a security guard in the 1940s. A decade later, he was singing with the Count Basie Orchestra. It was another dream come true in 1955 when the first recording Williams made with Basie topped the charts for six months! Joe Williams belted out the iconic Memphis Slim number, “Everyday I Have the Blues,” on his first chart topper with the Basie Band. But Williams became as renowned for his ballad singing as the blues. With his passionate delivery he re-invented the sound of the big-band balladeer. Late in life, proving his versatility once again, Joe Williams won a long-running role as “Grandpa Al” on Bill Cosby’s network TV show.
Kudos to Hall of Famers Doc Cheatham, Bob Haggart and Joe Williams as they share their music and their stories with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band on stage at The Landing, this week on Riverwalk Jazz.
Photo credit for Home Page and Recent Radio Broadcast Page: Joe Williams. Photo courtesy the artist.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2008