Trumpeter/vocalist 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 began to blossom. His made his best recordings after the age of 70.
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.
Cheatham was born in Nashville in 1905. His first music jobs were playing for dances, county fairs, circuses and shows on cornet and saxophone. After he heard Joe “King” Oliver, Freddy Keppard and Louis Armstrong, Doc said, “I then found out how pretty the trumpet can be so out went the saxophone.”
Doc moved to Chicago. Louis Armstrong asked him to substitue for him at the Vendome Theater. “At that time every trumpet player in Chicago was trying to play like Louis Armstrong. Some could and some couldn’t. I was one that couldn’t but tried like hell.”
After another move to the New York area, Doc was hired by Chick Webb and Sam Wooding, with whom he toured Europe for 3 years. Upon his return to the US, Doc joined McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (led by Benny Carter) and then Cab Calloway, for whom he played lead trumpet for 8 years.
“I then joined Marcelino Guerro, Machito, Perez Prado with Paul Webster and myself. After, I joined Wilbur DeParis who gave me the green light playing solos along with his brother Sidney. I began to get my New Orleans feeling back, I thought. I went to Africa with Wilbur and Herbie Mann, and returning I joined Benny Goodman. I had a little trouble again with my solos. I then realized I had too many styles to play; Latin, New Orleans, and New York Jazz. Then I joined Ricardo Rey as a soloist only.
“Now, I don’t know how to describe the style I now play, but I feel much better about it. There is much I still need to know about it after playing with Joe Newman and Clark Terry. I realize I can only do the best I can.”
In 1996, one year before his death at the age of 92, Doc recorded a critically-acclaimed CD with the young New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton, Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton.