Dec. 9: 51st Annual Christmas Concert: Remembering Arni Cheatham

Aardvark held its 51st Annual Christmas Concert on December 9, at 7:30 pm, at Church of the Covenant, 67 Newbury St, Boston, MA 02116.  The concert was dedicated to the memory of our beloved late saxophone stalwart, Arni Cheatham, and featured the premiere of The Gift, by music director Mark Harvey, in Arni’s honor.

Arni Cheatham (Photo: Mark Redmond)

Other music included the Shepherd’s Carol by William Billings, the African American spiritual Go Tell It on the Mountain, the soul-jazz classic Cristo Redentor by Duke Pearson, and the band’s updated arrangement of the 17th-century Advent hymn, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, which was performed on the very first Aardvark Christmas concert in 1973.

The December 9 concert was a benefit concert for Rosie’s Place. Missed the show but still want to donate? Click here to contact us.

Arni Cheatham (1944 – 2023) was Aardvark’s lead alto saxophonist for 45 of the band’s 51 years. He excelled at styles from the blues to swing to free improvisation to ballads, owning the trademark on our ensemble’s version of Daydream by Billy Strayhorn.   Arni was often compared with the celebrated alto soloist, Johnny Hodges, in Duke Ellington’s Orchestra. Indeed, Duke’s words on the passing of Hodges are strikingly resonant: ‘Because of this great loss, our band will never sound the same.’  Aardvark was blessed to have had such a wonderful musician and human being in its midst for so long.  Rest in peace, Arni.

–Mark Harvey

Read the related Boston Globe article: Arni Cheatham, ‘Jazz Hero’ saxophonist who got ‘to hold the horn while God plays,’ dies at 79