Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On: My Life in Music
Hardcover; 416 pages
University of Texas Press
Jeannie Cheatham's recently released autobiography Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On: My Life in Music is the exuberant tale of one of jazz and blues' most formidable pianists. Cheatham, born 1927 in Akron, Ohio, came from a family both loving and difficult. Early on she showed talent as a visual artist, and at a young age fell in love with a relative's piano that eventually became hers. Cheatham studied classical piano for thirteen years, giving her a solid foundation that led to performances at recitals, churches, and funeral parlors, and eventually gigs at dance halls and the local red light district. Cheatham is a wonderful writer, and she recounts her early years with warmth and candor, allowing the reader to genuinely enter her world.
Cheatham went on to an illustrious career that continues to this day. In her late twenties she joined forces with trombonist and arranger Jimmy Cheatham, who's best known for his work with Duke Ellington and Maynard Ferguson, and over fifty years later they are still making music as co-leaders of the Sweet Baby Blues Band. It's difficult to find anyone in the music world who Cheatham and her husband didn't know. Cheatham played with T-Bone Walker, Dinah Washington, Cab Calloway, Joe Williams, Al Hibbler, Odetta, and Big Mama Thornton, and the book is full of anecdotes and cameos about other musicians including the Cheathams' dear friend Papa Jo Jones, Jay McShann, Count Basie, Shorty Baker, Chico Hamilton, Earl Hines, Mary Lou Williams, Bill Dixon, and there's even a brief appearance by Miles Davis, who was blown away by Cheatham's ferocious chops.
One of Cheatham's great gifts is her ability to understand and adapt to changing musical climates. She can play swing, bebop, free, and of course blues. Her versatility is one of the reasons for her longevity, including her 1985 blues hit, "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On." Another gift is Cheatham's ebullient personality, which shines through her vivid, full-hearted prose. She has a real zest for life, and this combined with a no-nonsense honesty about the darker side of her life - including blatant racism, anxiety attacks, and family woes - combines to make Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On a terrific read and an important slice of jazz history. The book also includes a rollicking Cheatham sampler CD, and the only quibble is that the book lacks an index.