Drummer Gerald Cleaver was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and is a product of the rich music tradition found there and also in his home. Inspired by his father, John Cleaver, also a drummer, he began playing the drums at an early age. He also played violin in elementary school and switched to trumpet during junior high and high school. While in his teens, he gained early working experience with Ali Muhammad Jackson, Lamont Hamilton, Earl Van Riper, and Pancho Hagood and later with Marcus Belgrave, Donald Walden, Rodney Whitaker, A. Spencer Barefield and Wendell Harrison. Cleaver earned a B.A. in music education from the University of Michigan. During his studies he was awarded an National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Study Fellowship to study with drummer Victor Lewis. After graduating he began teaching in Detroit, and later joined the jazz faculty at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. He relocated to New York in 2002.
Cleaver has worked with Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Jacky Terrasson, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Mario Pavone, Charles Gayle, Matthew Shipp, Reggie Workman, Joe Morris, Craig Taborn, Ralph Alessi, Eddie Harris, and Miroslav Vitous, among others. In 2002 Adjust, recorded for the Spanish label Fresh Sound New Talent, was nominated in the Best Debut Recording category.