Mail from Doc Cheatham

Gerhard Conrad was born in Szamocin, Poland, in 1929. After the war, he worked for as a teacher near Leipzig, but fled to West Germany in the early 1950s and settled in Menden. In addition to his work as a teacher, he is known to jazz researchers primarily for his publications, which he self-published as "Der Jazzfreund," and in which he repeatedly shines a spotlight on the jazz scene in eastern Germany and other countries behind the Iron Curtain as well. His publications include bio-discographies of Kurt Henkel, Heinz Wehner or Walter Dobschinski, but also the multi-volume "Discography of Jazz and Semi Jazz Recordings in the Area of Today's People's Democracies" (1982-1991). Conrad died in 2016.

Conrad was in regular contact with the Jazzinstitut and often sent packages of books, records, programs, photographs, postcards, and letters he had received from musicians around the world. In the mid-1960s, for example, he corresponded with trumpeter Doc Cheatham, whom he quizzed in particular about Rex Stewart, with whom Cheatam had worked in McKinney's Cotton Pickers in the early 1930s. Conrad asks whether he feels that Stewart is underestimated, and Cheatham says that he is not, he has always been seen as one of the greats, it's just that he has been living in Los Angeles for a while, but the music is played in New York. California, writes Cheatham, is certainly nice to live in, but musically it's more of a cemetary. Ben Webster recently warned him to move to the West Coast if he wanted to continue making music.

He would like to play in Germany, Cheatham writes in another letter, but in view of the rock 'n' roll craze, jazz musicians like him would have a hard time. Louis Armstrong is fortunately doing well, he notes, otherwise jazz life in New York is difficult; even Birdland has become a discotheque, with jam sessions only on Mondays. New Orleans music, he writes, is a beautiful and serious art form, but unfortunately many bands currently feel compelled to perform it more as burlesque parody, with funny hats and the like. He himself just had a gig at Eddie Condon's Club on 56th Street with the Max Kaminsky band.

His last letter is dated May 1966. Things are going better, he writes, hence the long pause in correspondence. Right now he was playing a concert with Juanita Hall, then a TV show, plus gigs with Machito's band. It's hard to plan because Juanita Hall doesn't know yet if she wants to continue the show, so they "have to hustle". Ah, the pen is acting bad, so excuse this scratching. OK, Conrad, let me hear from you again soon. As ever, Doc Cheatham.

Doc Cheatham, Brief an Gerhard Conrad, 9. September 1964


Doc Cheatham, Brief an Gerhard Conrad, 28. September 1964


Doc Cheatham, Brief an Gerhard Conrad, 27. Januar 1965


Doc Cheatham, Brief an Gerhard Conrad, 20. April 1965


Doc Cheatham, Brief an Gerhard Conrad, 26. Juli 1966


Doc Cheatham, Brief an Gerhard Conrad, 27. März 1966


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