Vol 1 No.1
A Newsletter Dedicated To Chet Baker And His Music
CHET BAKER INDUCTED INTO HALL OF FAME 37TH ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL CRITICS POLL
The down beat Hall of Fame this year admits Chet Baker, the ninth trumpeter to be cited in the Readers and Critics polls.
A fragile lyricism, the ability to swing, and an undercurrent of melancholy met in the playing and singing of Chet Baker. He was a romantic and the subject of legend. He played by ear, looked handsome (initially, at least), and lived carefree and dangerously. He was the eternal boy-man, even with his face lined and hollow, his voice a cracked shell, and his trumpet style a sketch of a sketch shortly before his death at 58.
The boy burst on the national scene in 1952 with Gerry Mulligan’s pianoless quartet after two stints in the Army and a celebrated tour on the West Coast with Charlie Parker.
This was the beginning of West Coast jazz, in which predominantly white musicians cooled down bebop’s aggressiveness and took a detached, introspective approach. Baker’s intuitive lyricism curled around Mulligan’s thematically playful lines in a complementary counterpoint that practically defined the genre.
The Mulligan quartet and Baker’s next phase, his own quartet with pianist Russ Freeman, are well-documented on Mosaic Records. In the mid-‘50s, Baker headed for Europe, which provided him both a haven and a police record for drug addiction during the next decade.
One sees in his European sojourns, then and later, a respite from the fads of America. To chase trends, Baker would have had to alter his whole personality, because the trumpet and the voice and the boy-man were one. The timbral similarities between his horn and voice were uncanny.
Baker wasn’t a technician. He relied on tone and nuance to create a mood. There was an element of muted tragedy in his style.
Tragedy struck him during a comeback in 1968 when he was beaten and lost most of his teen in San Francisco. Recovered and on methadone for his addiction by the early ‘70s, he played out his career by charming his old fans and a second generation who knew him foremost as a legend.
In 1985, he sand and played on the soundtrack to ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT. Two years later, he became the subject of Bruce Webber’s documentary, LET’S GET LOST. These, along with Clint Eastwood’s BIRD, glamorize the drug-filled jazz life, perhaps unintentionally. The gaunt figure on the album cover to LET’S GET LOST and Baker’s fall to death from a second-story hotel window in Amsterdam on May 13, 1988 deny the glamour. But his trumpet and voice point to a nostalgia we’ll always hold.
-Owen Cordle (Reprinted with permission from DOWN BEAT Magazine)
The Editors would like to express their appreciation to DOWN BEAT for allowing us to reprint this article from August 1989. For those of you who did not know that this honor had been bestowed on Chet, we wanted to reprint this article for you.
BY CAROL BAKER
I was asked to write something for the first edition of CHET’S CHOICE, the newsletter dedicated to Chet and his music.
I have many memories of Chet and I have been working on getting them all down on paper in the hope that perhaps there might be a book in there somewhere.
Since his death, I have been trying to make some sense of his business. I had no idea what I was getting into or how difficult it was going to be. All I can tell you is that I have found this business to be one of the most blatantly dishonest businesses there is. In other words it basically consists of “crooks” with a few honest people thrown in here and there. Nevertheless, I am doing my best to straighten things out – no small task.
I first met Chet in Italy in 1960 and fell madly in love with him. We went through many good times and not so good times – but mostly good times.
Chet was a very talented man when it came to playing his horn, but there was a time when he thought he would never play again. I am speaking of the time when he was beaten very badly in San Francisco in 1966 – the same week our daughter Melissa was born.
Melissa was only three days old when I received a phone call from Chet saying he had been beaten by five young black guys and he was taking the bus home. It was drug related. Chet had frequented a certain area during his stay in San Francisco. The night before the beating he had avoided a character that he felt sure was looking to rob him. The next night when he left the club he was approached by five black guys who asked him the time. When he looked down at his watch he was punched in the head and the beating began. Luckily for him, two older black men in a car stopped and pulled him out of the gang, who were still punching and kicking hi m, and took him to the hospital.
I didn’t know quite what to expect until I saw him. He was a sorry sight. Stitches over his eye, teeth broken and black and blue bruises over is entire lower body where he had been kicked. The worst of it was the fact that his teeth were destroyed and he was unable to play.
With the help of Dick bock of World Pacific Jazz he was directed to a dentist who fitted him with his first dentures. He looked fine, but when he picked up his horn to play he couldn’t make a sound. All you could hear coming out of the end of his horn was air. He kept at it, while I went about the business of managing our three babies, until he finally put his horn down and with tears in his eyes said, “Carol, I can’t make a sound. What am
I going to do if I can’t play any more.” He tried to look on the brighter side by saying perhaps he could “…just sing….” We both knew that that wouldn’t be enough for him, but we held on to that idea because we had to.
I encouraged him by telling him that if he kept practicing he would play again. Not being a musician and understanding the severity of that kind of damage to a horn player I truly believed that that was the answer. It was more ignorance on my part, but perhaps it was just as well that I didn’t understand or I might not have been as positive as I was. I never had any doubts that he would play again, but Chet did. Anyway, as time went by he was able to play the scale. That’s all I heard for a long time until he asked me to listen to a simple tune that he had been working on. He played and I listened. It didn’t sound too bad, but he still had a lot of work ahead of him.
In all, it took him almost three years of practicing and going to small out of the way coffee shops where there would be some small unknown band playing. We would go in and Chet would find a table way back in the club – almost as though he did not want to be seen. Fortunately, there was always someone who recognized him and would inform the band leader that Chet was in the club and he would be invited to play. He always started out by apologizing that he had no “chops” but would try. Of course, it wasn’t always like that. There were times when he wasn’t invited to play. On those occasions we would quietly leave after a couple of sets. In time he began playing better and better.
His first professional appearance was at the Melody Room in Hollywood. A fellow musician and long time friend, Artt Frank, had become acquainted with Chet during his struggle to play again. Artt kept on trying to get Chet bookings but no one was interested. They believe that Chet was unreliable because of his past drug use. It was Artt that arranged the Melody Room engagement, which, by the way, Chet and Artt taped that night just to see how bad he sounded. Then came an appearance on the Steve Allen Show in 1969.
It was while he was booked into a club in Denver in 1973 that Dizzy Gillespie stopped by. After he heard about Chet’s problems and lack of work he called the Half Note in New York and arranged a booking. That was the beginning of Chet’s comeback into the music scene. Soon after, he was able to return to the wonderful audiences in Europe that he loved so much. He also appeared at Carnegie Hall for a reunion with Gerry Mulligan. He spent his life traveling from once concert or booking to another with many recording sessions in between. Two or three times a year he would return to the United States for a booking. He would have spent more time at home if there had been more work here, but unfortunately there wasn’t.
I miss him more than anyone could know, and I am extremely sad for him because of the way he was portrayed by Bruce Weber in his “documentary” LET’S GET LOST. It is obvious to anyone who really know Chet that Mr. Weber didn’t have a clue as to what Chet Baker was all about. Mr. Weber was looking for negativity. He completely “overlooked” the many positive aspects of Chet’s life and the people who truly cared about him and respected him for who and what he was.
TRUMPETER CHET BAKER: EXCESS AND ANGUISH By Mike Zwerin
The International Herald Tribune
Paris – He is the Dostoevski of jazz – excess, anguish and sorrow are his stuff. Underrated, undernourished, his own worst enemy, plaintive, lyrical, resourceful, enduring and endearing, Chesny H. Baker represents a spooky amalgamation of the human spirit.
Chet place 13th, last in the trumpet category of the 1987 Down Beat critics poll, published last month. The same critics voted Teddy Wilson and Thad Jones, both recently deceased, into the magazine’s Hall of Fame.
Baker speculates that he might be underrated because the world of jazz “may not be ready for a red neck trumpet player” – he was born in Oklahoma – or that maybe he makes it sound too easy. Baker clones play lean lines with similar introverted sounds, but close listen reveals a large distance. His choice of notes and their articulation puts him in a place of his own. His lucid melodic constructions are closer to Lester Young than Miles Davis, to who he is often (unfavourably) compared. However, it’s feeling about all when Baker plays a blue not blue.
Charlie Parker hired him in 1952 for his first Los Angeles engagement. Folklore has it Parker later told Dizzy Gillespie: “You better look out, there’s a little white cat out on the West Coast whose gonna eat you up.”
Fame came in 1953 when Baker joined Gerry Mulligan’s groundbreaking piano-less quartet. He won Down Beat, Metronome and Playboy magazine polls throughout the ‘50s. He also sang with a lost little boy voice (“My Funny Valentine) which attracted groupies. A pretty country boy with doomed karma; he was compare to Bix Biderbeck and James Dean. Fuelled in part by the “great white hope” syndrome, he could have been a contender. He generated a considerable cult following.
After his good friend – and by now fellow myth – the pianist Dick Twardzik died of a drug overdose at 24, Baker now began to suffer from drug-abuse, critical backlash and public indifference. He spent several years in jail in an Italian Jail on a narcotics conviction, lost his teeth in a San Francisco brawl, learned to play with dentures (a torturous process) and started a comeback with a highly praised Carnegie Hall reunion
with Gerry Mulligan in 1974. Reviewing it, the critic John S. Wilson wrote that Baker had developed “more range and assertiveness within the wistfully ruminative style with which he has always been associated.”
When on Baker is one of the greatest living jazz improvisers; when off, it’s more frustrating than disastrous. His career cannot be called orchestrated. He records whenever he needs money. There are too many Chet Baker records in the bins. The odds are against the uninformed buyer. Two albums on Cris Cross, a Danish label, can be recommended: “Chet’s Choice” (1985) with the Belgian Philip Catherine on guitar and Jean-Louis Rassinfosse on bass including a stunning “Love For Sale” and “Blues For A Reason” (1984) with the tenor man Warned Marsh. They showcase Baker’s trademark contrapuntal lines with Catherine and Marsh, reminiscent of Baker with Mulligan.
The surprising interest in jazz on the part of the post-punk generation has included a modest Chet Baker revival. He solos on Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding.” The young rock singer Chris Isaak admires him as “the real thing.” Most of his work is in Europe. The French like him. An ex-sideman says: “Chet tends to leave for the next gig in the wrong direction. He'll come to Paris from Brussels by way of Amsterdam, for example, on time if all goes well. Sometimes the pay wasn’t what it was supposed to be, or when, but there were so many magic moments, they made everything else worthwhile.
”(The Editors would like to express their appreciation to Mike Zwerin and The International Herald Tribune for allowing us to reprint this article from 1988)
(Discography: CARNEGIE HALL CONCERT, CTI 6054/6055, ’74; PUNCH THE CLOCK by Elvis Costello, Columbia FC38897, ’83; BLUES FOR A REASON, Crisscross 1010, ’85. Dick Twardzik may be heard on a recent Cd reissue from Pacific Jazz Records, TRIO Freeman/Twardzik, CDP 7 46861 2.)
WORLD MOURNS STAN GETZ
This article started out as a tribute to the tenacity of Stan Getz in his battle against liver cancer. But then on June 6, 1991 we were very saddened to learn that Stan had lost that battle.
There might be those who didn’t like Stan Getz’s music but we’ve never met one. His “liquid lyricism” made him the perfect accompanist to countless vocalists, two of who were Ella Fitzgerald and Helen Merrill.
Stan’s career spanned 6 decades, from the ‘40s to the ‘90s. He first came to public note with Woody Herman’s recording of “Early Autumn” and he went back time and time again to appear with Herman’s bands.
Although tabbed a “cool school” musician, Getz played it all, from big bands to electronic jazz. He is credited with popularizing Bossa Nova with his ‘60s recording of “Desafinado” and, indeed, his fire and lyricism lent themselves to that style of music.
But Stan was never static, always moving forward. He helped launch countless musicians in jazz. He toured constantly. Among others, he toured with Bob Brookmeyer in the late ‘70s when Brookmeyer returned to active playing and he toured with Chet Baker in the early ‘80s. But he always returned to his beloved Copenhagen and the Monometer.
There Will Never Be Another You, Stan Getz. We will miss you.