Today In Jazz

Happy Birthday Doc Cheatham!

June 13

Trumpeter/singer Doc Cheatham is born in Nashville, TN in 1905. Cheatham is truly sui generis, the only jazz musician of note to have found himself as a soloist after more than a half century as a lead player–and introduce singing into his performances in his 70s In many ways, his career recapitulates the history of jazz: As a young musician, he played in the pit bands that accompanied singers such as Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters and played in a plethora of Jazz Age big bands, including those of Louis Armstrong, drummer Chick Webb and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. Cheatham spent most of the 1930s as the lead trumpeter in the Cab Calloway Orchestra, one of the best (and highest-paying) of the Swing Era. He also played with pianist Teddy Wilson and went to Paris in 1940 to play with tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and trumpeter Buck Clayton. World War II forced him to flee back to the U.S., where he played with multi-instrumentalist Benny Carter, but then put his musical career on hold and took a job with the post office. Later in the 1940s, Cheatham again found himself where the action was–on New York’s 52nd Street, where he played with pianist Eddie Heywood, Jr., and trumpeter Hot Lips Page. And in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Cheatham began playing in the Latin orchestras such as those of Perez Prado and Machito’s Afro-Cubans, the premier Latin jazz band of its time (and all time), which spearheaded the mambo dance craze of that period. Around 1960, Cheatham began to emerge from relative obscurity: He led his own band at the International Hotel in New York City. Cheatham played with groups led by Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton, and played in the pit orchestra for Broadway production of a rock musical of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. Meanwhile, Cheatham, who was self-taught, decided to embark on a practice regime with the result of becoming a great soloist. It took seven years of woodshedding (practicing) but he attained his goal and then some when he began playing a weekly jazz brunch at the New York City club Sweet Basil’s in 1980. Cheatham’s playing — and singing — were a revelation, and that gig became a jazz institution. Many who heard him then felt that he’d reached his musical prime in his late 80s and early 90s. Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, in their Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz, wrote, “His unhurried lyricism informed his thoughtful improvisations, often topped off with the clarity of his upper register. As a singer, he demonstrated a warm, gentle, understated style.” Cheatham died in 1997. Listen to Cheatham team up with the trumpeter Nicholas Payton (23 at the time) to perform “How Deep Is the Ocean” in the 1997 album Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton, here:

Clarinetist Clarence Hutchenrider is born in 1908 in Waco, TX. Hutchenrider is considered the finest musician to play in the Casa Loma Orchestra, in which he served from 1931 to 1943. He appeared on virtually all of the band’s most important recordings, including “Casa Loma Stomp,” “No Name Jive” and “Smoke Rings.” His post-Casa Loma life was spent mostly in obscurity, although he stayed active playing with bandleader Vince Giordano’s neo-Jazz Age ensembles in the 1970s and 1980s. He died in 1991. Listen to him with the Casa Lomans playing “Smoke Rings,” from 1937, here: