Jimmy Cheatham dies; jazz trombonist, teacher

Played with legends; co-led band

Jimmy Cheatham, a jazz trombonist and teacher who played with Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton before forming the Sweet Baby Blues Band with his wife, Jeannie, has died. He was 82.

Cheatham collapsed and died Jan. 12 at his San Diego home.

Since the mid-1980s, he had played growl trombone with his wife, a vocalist-pianist, in their Kansas City-style band. Their 1985 debut album, "Sweet Baby Blues," won a French Grand Prix du Disque Award. The album of classic blues and Cheatham originals, including their own "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On," has become a blues classic.

One of its seven successor albums, "Luv in the Afternoon," was voted blues album of the year in a 1991 critics poll in Down Beat magazine.

During World War II, Jimmy Cheatham served in the Army and played in the 173rd Army Ground Force Band. The group included such veterans of the Count Basie Orchestra as saxophonist Lester Young and drummers Chico Hamilton and "Papa" Jo Jones, who became Cheatham's mentor.

After his discharge, Cheatham studied music at the Conservatory of Modern Music in New York and later at a college in Hollywood, where he took a course in scoring for films and television.

He wrote music for ABC's "Wide World of Sports," several Broadway shows and television commercials.

He began teaching in 1971, when he was invited to lead a jazz course at Bennington College in Vermont. In 1978, he was asked to head the jazz program at the University of California, San Diego.

Cheatham retired from UCSD as professor emeritus of music in 1993. UCSD officials immediately hired him back to continue in his role as jazz ensemble director.

"Jimmy was a consummate artist, but I marveled at his role as a teacher," said UCSD music professor Cecil Lytle, who brought Cheatham to the university.

"He instructed students not just in how to play their instrument but why," Lytle said. "And he was a remarkable walking history book who provided younger musicians the atmosphere of the big bands. He knew that music as mother's milk, and he conveyed its excitement, joy and tragedy. I think the people who will miss him the most are the younger musicians he touched. He was their link to the foundations of jazz."

Plans are in the works for a traditional New Orleans-style musical sendoff.

"We'll get together and eat and play and talk about what a great cat he was," said his wife, who met Cheatham during a late-night jam session in Buffalo, N.Y.
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