In Memoriam: Cleveland Eaton

Cleveland Eaton

Cleveland Eaton, who played with jazz greats from Ella Fitzgerald to Count Basie, has passed away after a months-long illness. He was 80 years old. His wife, Myra Eaton, confirmed the news in a story with the Birmingham Times.

“He was just a wonderful man who treated me like a queen and took care of [his children and grandchildren],” she said. “I’ve had a great life with him. He was the greatest husband, the greatest bass player in the world, even if I wasn’t married to him.”

Eaton was born in the Birmingham suburb of Fairfield, Alabama in 1939. He began studying music at just five years old, but it was a chance encounter that led him to the bass. He saw a high school teacher with one in the back of his car and asked about it.

Eaton attended what would become Tennessee State University and played in a jazz group there. After moving to Chicago, he connected with the Ike Cole Trio and the Ramsey Lewis Trio. It was his work with Lewis that first garnered him national recognition. He recorded over a dozen albums over the decade he spent with Lewis, including the 1974 crossover hit Sun Goddess.

It was during this same time that Eaton began releasing his own albums as a leader. Eaton’s 1975 record Plenty Good Eaton became a classic in funk and is loaded with great bass lines. Check out “Chitown Theme”:

He left the Lewis Trio and took a two-week fill-in gig with The Count Basie Orchestra that turned into a 17-year stint. The jazz piano legend would refer to Eaton as “The Count’s Bassist.” He performed on Basie’s final albums and continued in the Count Basie Orchestra into the ’90s. Eaton renamed his solo group from Cleve Eaton and Co. to Cleve Eaton and the Alabama All Stars in 2004 and continued to play with them until recently.

Other accolades for Eaton include inductions to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Cleveland Eaton.

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