Vol 1 No.3
A Newsletter Dedicated To Chet Baker And His Music
DEATH OF A JAZZMAN:
LAST NOTES ON CHET BAKER’S FINAL DAYS By Mike Zwerin The International Herald Tribune
Amsterdam – Marking eras by some event or other is bound to be arbitrary, but it can be said that the myth of the bebop junkie, the image of jazz and drugs hand in hand, died along with Chet Baker when he fell out of the window of a hotel near the drug dealers’ area on Zeedijk at 3:00 A. M. on Friday the 13th.
Peter Huyts, his road manager, identified the body in the morgue. Chet (he must be called Chet, Baker alone won’t work. Chet was his pianissimo, swinging sound, there are many Bakers but there was only one Chet) had disappeared into the drug subculture for two days before his death. When he did not arrive for a radio broadcast in Laren the evening of May 12, Huyts had a premonition. “Sooner or later something was bound to happen,” he said. “Everybody knew that.”
An autopsy ruled out physical violence, the hotel room door had been locked from the inside and drugs were found in it, which seems to exclude foul play. The results of the blood test are not yet known, but it is widely assumed that there will be traces of drugs in Chet Baker’s blood. The police did not rule out suicide although, like most people who knew him, Huyts doubts it: “It was a hot night, he was probably just sitting on the windowsill and nodded out. One time too many. I picked up his things at the hotel later. His clothes were neatly folded in his suitcase. Somebody about to commit suicide doesn’t do that.”
Eglal Fahri, who owns the Parisian club New Morning where Chet appeared at least once a month said, “We always did good business with Chet. I think one reason was that people thought each time might be the last.” May 5 turned out to be it. The German pianist Joachim Kuhn sat in with Chet that night. “He seemed very tired,” Kuhn recalled. “It was so sad. I remember thinking that this can’t go on much longer.”
Chet was one of the first generation of masters who created the powerful American urban music that came to be called bebop. He was the last of them to remain faithful to heroin, long after the others had cleaned up or died young. It was a love affair more than a habit.
Chet was no revolutionary. He was responsible for no dramatic breakthroughs on a level with Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie. But his sound, certain turns of phrases and where and how he place notes have entered the vocabulary. He touched you in a summertime place where the living isn’t easy. People who had never met him cried when he died.
Bebop’s creators had to live with critics who said the jazz they played wasn’t really “music.” But they all heard the sounds they’d discovered in the compositions of acclaimed “serious” composers and on the soundtracks of popular television series. They worked in Mafia-controlled saloons and collected no royalties. They fought alienation by constructing a secret culture with its own style and language – “bad” meaning “good” is vintage bebop argot. Heroin was part of the huddle. It seemed to cure alienation for a minute.
All of this is now a big budget subject. Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins make gold records and play the White House. Today’s young “post-
bop” jazzmen wear three-piece suits, arrive on time, drink mineral water and negotiate six-figure contracts. It is no coincidence that heroin disappeared as respect arrived. The death of Chet Baker dots the last “i” of that sad old story.
The creases on his face multiplied and deepened and his lips turned in over the dentures had had worn since he teeth were knocked out by angry dealers in San Francisco. He began to resemble an old Indian, the last of a tribe that had seen a heap of suffering. He looked like he needed taking care of and he did and there were always people around to do it. Her persistence and ingenuity in pursuit of heroin and his muse and the ability of that parched body and spirit to survive such a relentless onslaught earned him (sometimes reluctant) respect from people of all ages, races, nationalities and stylistic preference who agree on little else. Chet was the real thing.
A few years ago, he recalled how embarrassed he had been in the 1950s when he placed higher that Clifford Brown and Dizzy Gillespie, both of whom he adored, in the polls because he was a “great white hope” with a pretty face that reminded people of James Dean. He knew he wasn’t in their league yet. In the middle 1980s, when on a good night he was capable of playing as well as jazz can be played, he was dismissed as a has-been. Great white hopes had gone out of style, along with pianissimos. But it was to a large degree his own fault; falling off a chair on stage is not a good career move.
Chet once told a reporter: “I have a medical problem and in Europe they treat it as a medical problem.” So he came to Europe for love and medicine, moving around three weeks here, two days there, in hotels or wearing out welcomes with hosts. He had a methadone prescription from a doctor in Amsterdam. Methadone cures the craving for heroin. On methadone the grace would be healthy. But he always returned to Zeedijk in Amsterdam for the hot flash he needed.
The Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine describes touring with Chet: “He would drive from Paris to Brussels by way of Amsterdam; sometimes he’d fly up there between two nights in Paris. He’d be late a lot and there would be some very heavy panics. The pay wasn’t always it was supposed to be, or when, but there were so many magic moments in the music, they made everything else worthwhile.”
The Dutch impresario Wim Wigt handled Chet in Europe and Japan in the 1980s. It was not an exclusive contract but Wigt estimates that Chet earned over $200,000 after taxes last year. The two albums he made for Wigt”s Timeless Records have sold over 25,000 units each and are still selling. It is not difficult where the money went.
One friend recalls Chet arriving at his house with 30,000 guilders in a shopping bag. He had recently bought a cream-colored Alfa Romeo Giulia with Italian plates. According to Peter Huyts, who drove with him often, Chet was an expert driver who would miraculously sober up behind the wheel no matter how stoned he might have been.
The lanky, bespectacled Huyts looks too young to be a grandfather of two and too straight to be a road manager for jazz bands. He had been running a part-time jazz club when he lost his job as an electronics engineer five years ago. Knowing and loving the music, he began to travel with Wigt’s clients like Gillespie, Art Blakey and John Scofield. He figures he’s heard more than 150 Chet Baker concerts and he probably knew him as well as anyone.
Last Thursday, Huyts was in Schiphol, Amsterdam’s airport, waiting to accompany the coffin on a flight to Los Angeles, where Chet’s mother owns a plot.
“I wanted to be with him until the very end,” he said. “I’m surprised how much I miss him.”
Traveling with Baker was no piece of cake. But despite the fact that Chet spent 16 months in a Italian jail and had at one time or another been deported from Switzerland, West Germany and Britain, there was never any trouble crossing borders.
“Not once,” Huyts said. “That always puzzled me. But Chet had a good ‘act’ for the douane. He knew how to play that game. He could turn on the charm.”
“He was always losing things, leaving things behind, but he kept the mouthpiece Dizzy
Gillespie gave him for years. He was very proud of that. It had ‘Birks’ engraved on it,” Huyts added, referring to Gillespie’s middle name.
Gillespie got Chet his first comeback engagement in New York after he had learned to play with false teeth. In a telephone interview Saturday from his home in New Jersey, Gillespie said:
“The major thing he lacked – you see, Chet was so tender. Jazz is a gut-bucket thing, great soloists have got to be able to get tough sometimes. He was too vulnerable.”
Fahri said she love Chet “with all his faults.”
He was friendly, loyal, warm,” she said, “and his music was so beautiful. There was something very special about him. He was surrounded by myths.”
Joachim Kuhn had recently found him a house to rent near his own outside Paris. Chet
Told him he had not had a home for too long, he wanted to settle down, to travel less for higher prices, maybe take a few students. Kuhn heard Chet for the first time when he was 8 years old in Berlin in the ‘50s.
“He moved me so much I immediately wanted to be a trumpet player,” he said, “only nobody gave me a trumpet. It would have been so nice to have my old hero living in my village.”
Chet was surprised and delighted when the Dutch trumpet player Evert Hekkema told him that he and his teen-age friends had combed their hair and dressed like him. He had the key to Hekkema’s apartment for more than two years. He paid not rent but was always arriving with gifts and never forgot to take care of his long-distance calls.
A rehabilitated addict who asked not to be identified remembers seeing Chet strip naked in search of an uncollapsed vein. He found one in his groin but raised it several times until the needle finally entered. Then his knees buckled and he held onto the sink, moaning “saline solution.” The former addict recognized an overdose and prepared the solution quickly. He gave Chet the syringe and this time he hit a vein in his neck on the first try.
Several hours later, when Chet had recovered and was dressing to go to work, the former addict asked him: “Hey, man, don’t you ever get tired of this stuff?”
“It’s a drag,” he replied. “Hotel rooms and airports and getting guys for gigs. I hate the road.”
“I don’t mean that,” he said. “I mean using dope.”
“Oh, that.” Chet shrugged. “I never think about that.”
(The editors would like to express their appreciation to Mike Zwerin and the International Herald Tribune for allowing us to reprint this article.)
PHIL URSO WAS CHET’S CHOICE
by Joe Urso
Tenor saxophonist Phil Urso was indeed Chet Baker’s choice in December of 1954. It happened at Birdland of all places where Urso, a few months earlier, had played a two night gig with none other than Charlie Parker, altoist Jackie McClean, pianist Duke Jordon, bassist/celloist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Kenny Clark (oft-times called Klook). Birdland was Urso’s stomping grounds on Monday nights with his own quartet and a mixture of groups he just ‘jammed’ with, but Bird paid Phil Fifty dollars a night for two night there and it was ‘THE’ jazz musician’s hangout.
One night in December of 1954, Mile Davis’ group was sharing the ‘bill’ with Chet Baker’s quartet, which included Russ Freeman, Carson Smith and Bob Neal. The audience was a mixture of jazz fans and jazz musicians (on other nights you could spot a dignitary in a corner booth like Walter Cronkite or other TV and movies stars). Gerry Mulligan and his good friend Phil Urso were there just digging two of the best trumpeters around in Miles and Chet . . . what a night that must have been.
Chet finished his set and Urso asked Mulligan to introduce him and Chet said, “I’ve heard some nice things about you.” – (Boy, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall that night). Miles was playing on the stand now and Chet asked Phil if he would like to play the next set. Phil got his horn from a booth (always ready for an invitation from anyone) and thus began a 16 years marriage of two very close friends and musicians.
It seems that most of the trumpet players in Phil Urso’s 46-year music call on him to play alongside of them because of his melodic approach when improvising and because they can ‘play off’ each other comfortably relaxed and still swing. I am not just name-dropping here, folks. Phil Urso has played with Fats Navarro, Red Rodney, Conte Candoli, Miles Davis, Tony Fruscella, Chet Baker and Dizzy Gillepsie. Oh yeah, I forgot Art Farmer and many more. I won’t list the trombone players because Phil has played with just about all of them too.
Miles, Chet, Dizzy and Tony Fruscella are Phil’s favorites. When he roomed with Miles for six months one time, Miles asked who his favorite trumpeter was and Phil said, “You, Miles.” His other ’roomie’, Chet, did not have to ask, he knew right away as night after night they ‘rubbed off’ each other on the road or in a recording studio. Phil must be given credit (and only a few know this) for telling Chet to play with more ‘fire’, to bite off the notes a little sharper, but to keep that marvelous tone always. That ‘fire” can be heard on their first album for Pacific Jazz that Richard bock titled, CHET BAKER AND CREW, PJ1224. Phil always prodded Chet on the bandstand and this was the ‘new’ Baker in 1956 (on the up tunes anyway). Just listen again and compare Chet to his earlier years.
But, back to Birdland in ’54. Phil says the first tune he played with Chet was STELLA BY STARLIGHT. A little hassle developed between Russ Freeman and Chet in a hotel lobby and they separated. Chet then hired Phil on the spot for a piano-less group at Birdland for another week. Then they traveled to Detroit for a gig there using Al Haig on piano and that was the beginning of the quintet years with Phil Urso on tenor saxophone. Phil did the hiring and recommendations on future rhythm section players over the years – players like Bobby Timmons, Chick Corea, Carl Perkins, Scott LaFaro, etc. Let’s put nepotism out of the way and give Phil Urso a lot of credit. He was CHET’S CHOICE right up until May 13, 1988.
(Chet and Phil were scheduled to play the North Sea Festival in July 1988 or in Denmark later on. Chet died in May 1988.)
CONVERSATION WITH HAL GALPER
Hal Galper played piano with the Chet Baker Quartet for two years. He also toured with Cannonball Adderley for two years. In 1980 he joined the award winning Phil
Woods Quartet for a 10-year stint as pianist-composer-arranger. He formed his own trio in 1990 with Todd Coolman on bass and Steve Ellington on drums. “After being a professional musician for years, I decided to quit compromising and play what I wanted to play.” A solo album, LIVE AT MAYBECK HALL, and a trio album, INVITATION TO A CONCERT, have been issued within the last year on the Concord label.
Hal, a native of Salem, MA, studied at Berklee School of Music and privately with Herb Pomroy and Margaret Chaloff. Leonard Feather notes that Hal came to general public attention when he replaced George Duke in Cannonball Adderley’s quartet. Working in Adderley’s group was great. “He (Adderley) had an intense rhythm section that gave you plenty of room. You didn’t have to talk about the music.” There was a wonderfully intuitive ambiance in that groups as well as in Phil Woods’ quartet. Hal likes to play with the Breckers because, “We don’t talk about the music, we just play it.”
According to the JAZZ ENCYCLOPEDIA Hal was classically trained: however, jazz is his first love. In addition to Cannonball and Chet, he played with Stan Getz, Randy and Michael Brecker, Lee Konitz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Johnny Hodges and, of course, Phil Woods. “Chet taught me how to comp,” says Hal who accompanied Joe Williams, Anita
O’Day, Cris Conner, and Dakota Staton. At first he was intent on becoming a good accompanist, then after working with Phil Woods, he knew intuitively that it was time to go out and form his own group.
Hal’s biography has the following quote from Chet: “He’s a very good player…I like the way he plays and I like the way he writes. I asked him to sit in with me at the Jazz Workshop in Boston and hired him … just like that.” Chet and Hal recorded the follow-
in albums: THE MOST IMPORTANT JAZZ ALBUM OF 1964/65; BABY BREEZE;
CHET BAKER – HAL GALPER (a private recording done in Rome); and the Fat Tuesday’s radio broadcast which has just been released on CD. Maggie Hawthorn in her 1981 DOWNBEAT interview with Chet offers these observations about the session: “A pianist, Phil Markowitz, completed the New York group although the young key-board man was no match for either Harold Danko, who played on the recording, or for HAL GALPER, WHO SAT IN ONE EVENING AND GALVANIZED THE PROCEEDINGS.” (italics mine).
Chet recorded at least three of Hal’s compositions. “This Is The Thing” and “Pamela’s Passion” appeared on the BABY BREEZE Lp and has just been reissued on the DC as well as the Emarcy CD, CHET BAKER COMPACT JAZZ. “Mr. B” is on the Timeless recording MR. B. The liner notes state that Galper’s tune, “Mr. B,” is a Baker original; however, the listing of the tracks correctly credits “(H. Galper) WW Music.”
In JAZZ-THE ESSENTIAL COMPANION by Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather and Brian Priestley, Chet is described as “Not one of nature’s bandleaders, he seldom asserts his authority and has take part in some highly unsatisfying performances and albums.” This statement certainly does not describe Hal’s experience with Chet. In Hal’s book, “Many band leaders were fascists. They had their own way of getting you to do what they wanted.” I wondered what he meant. “When you have a bunch of crazy egomaniacal musicians, you have to get them under control. Chet was one of the better fascist bandleaders. They expected lots of control, and they taught you though fear, intimidation, and terror teaching.”
Some examples of how this was accomplished were maddening. “Chet made his comments on the bandstand: he just couldn’t save them for after the gig.” One night at the Blackhawk in San Francisco Hal was trying to play real soft (when) he hit a chord that was a bit loud. Chet turned to him – now this was in front of a packed house – and said, “You got it.” Chet, who was sitting down as usual, just quit singing in the middle of the chorus of a number. He didn’t leave the bandstand, but his message was unmistakable. On another occasion he told the bass player, “I told you not to do that.”
Delivering criticism in private was not part of his leadership style. Of course this was very embarrassing to the musician who received the barb; but inevitably this message was received, the player modified or the musician left the group. On a gig at the Music Inn in Rome, Chet fired the drummer, then the bass player so the quartet became a trio, then a duo. Hal knew it would be a solo act if Chet fired him. Hal wasn’t fired, but one night while he was playing a solo, Chet said, “Gee, Hal, every time you do that I get lost.” Not exactly the kind of comment to help one’s concentration.
Chet’s singing was so soft that it made the accompanist super aware and very attentive to what the soloist was doing. On the BABY BREEZE album, another pianist (Bob James) played for the vocal numbers. “I learned a lot from Chet about dynamics, restraint, listening and how to play a ballad … but the parting of the ways came when I wanted to play more modern stuff.”
Although Chet and Hal worked together, they didn’t hang out. Hal says, “Betty, we were from different generations.” That accounts for a lot, but Hal sounds like he is an intuitive, articulate intellectual, while Chet never appeared to be terribly interested in the world of ideas. Aside from their talent, and obsession with music, they seemed to have had very little in common. The following vignette, which Hal sees as typical, supports that assessment. One summer, Chet was driving up Broadway in his convertible with Hal. They had ridden in silence for about 10 to 20 minutes when Chet said, “Hall, if I’m saying anything, it doesn’t mean anything except I’m not thinking anything.” Hal’s response was, “Chet, you can’t not think.” End of conversation.
LET’S GET LOST in Hal’s opinion is the best jazz movie ever made. He liked it better than BIRD or STRAIGHT NO CHASER. I raised some questions about whether it was authentic and mentioned Chet’s riding in the back seat since he loved to drive so. Hal didn’t have a problem with that, but did concede that Chet like to drive and, “He parked at 75 miles an hour.” The movie seemed typical of the years in which Hal knew Chet. Chet had been addicted for many years when they worked together. Hal wonders if trying to stop may not be worse and create more problems than making drugs legal for someone with a chronic addiction. It was difficult to understand the things that Chet did in order to support his habit.
“I have the utmost respect for his musicality; he was a master improviser.” I state my admiration for Chet’s continuing to play despite his troubles. Hal’s response was beautiful: “No musician does it by choice.” Yes, the talent drives one, but we agreed that some talented people do get derailed by drugs. Fortunately Chet persisted. Hal recalls, “He was deadly serious about his music. He sat in with Phil’s band, and he knew how to take over the rhythm section.” So our wispy, dreamy, lyrical trumpet player who was very “picky” about the accompaniment when he sang was made of rather stern stuff.
NOTES FROM THE EUROPEAN EDITOR By Gunther Skiba
Our premiere issue and Numbers 1 and 2, volume 1, took off, literally. I ran only one ad in the “Jazz Podium,” but the word got around. In handling customer traffic I entered the exciting world of those we knew had to exist and hopefully would react from “OUT THERE.’
All of a sudden, I got letters, phone calls from, wrote letters, sent subscription forms to the “out there” fans and started to meet some. Interest in ‘the man’ reaches from Sweden to Italy and anything in between, including Poland and the Ukraine. Along the way . . .
I call and correspond with Thorbjorn Sjogren and I am happy to send him Cd’s not available in Denmark. He reciprocates and I also got a Dexter Gordon discography from him (which he wrote). Enjoyable. Thorbjorn is working right now with Klaus Gottwald, Frankfurt, on the second edition of the Chet Baker Discography, to come out the first quarter of 1992.
I met Klaus in Frankfurt while on home leave from Nice to Germany. On the phone, we agreed to meet in front of a centrally located record shop. For recognition I would wear a certain jacket and sunglasses, he would have the Lackerschmid CD “Originals” in his hand. He and I stood there for awhile. On the phone I had said, “We will meet you.”
He was looking for a couple and I didn’t see the CD. After awhile, we sort of walked up to each other. My wife, I explained, was not sure to survive another “Chet evening,” and that’s just what Klaus and I had: diner and lots of talking, details, dates, persons, would he/I recall/know, and a lot of fun. Would have been a lost evening for my better part, despite my educating her up to a certain level. NO MUSICAL HARRASSMENT!
I also met Gudrun Endress and Herbert Joos in Stuttgart. Gudrun edits “Jazz Podium” and Herbert is a well-known flugelhorn player in Europe and did a wonderful piece of art, “AN ISSUSTRATED PORTRAIT OF CHET BAKER.” Thorbjorn, in his book review article, said it’s breathtaking, weighty and expensive. If you are “into the man” and can afford it, get it. It is a piece of art and not expensive for what it is. Herbert has done a similar masterpiece on Miles, which costs twice as much. This meeting deserves an article on its own merits. I will do it soon.
A TRUMPET IS A TRUMPET IS A . . .
I called Jeroen de Valk, author of “CHET,” the only biography on ‘the man’ so far, out in Dutch and German editions. A really outstanding book, not only for the “so far.” We talked and corresponded. I am working on and promoting the idea of an English edition. Jeroen also connected me to William Ouwerkerk, director of the documentary, “CHET
BAKER, THE LAST DAYS.” I still have to follow up on this.
Another German author, Lothar Lewien, wrote “CHET BAKER: ANGEL WITH BROKEN WINGS, AN HOMMAGE.” I talked with Lothar before I read his book. Having read it, great stuff, if you are the person to get carried away on a trip. And Lothar literally followed the man, from concert to concert, and shares his experience. For Lothar, Chet had become “a saint, who told his romantic tales of desire and love, beauty and poetry, on his trumpet in tiny clubs countless times.”
During the last months, I also became aware of the fact that I might have most of Chet’s LP’s and almost any CD out so far, but . . . I do not have hundreds of hours of Chet live on tape, all unreleased. And there are quite a few to home I spoke. One thing becomes immediately clear to me: this is another category of Chetmania. I said to the guys that I am grateful to get some of those, in doing them a favor in exchange. But, I would see each tape as a welcome “plus” for my collection. I will never set my target for “x” hundred hours of live tapes of the man and aim for the “zero’th second” to have it all.
A TRUMPET IS A TRUMPET IS A MAN IS A . . . Here goes . . .
I got a postcard from Wolfgang Martini, a young German student of music and jazz musician, guitar: “Now at last, there is a newsletter on OUR CHET.” We called and “Chetted” and correspond as it comes. He has moved to Hilversum, Netherlands, 15 kilometers from Amsterdam, to study and refine his playing at the Conservatory. Arriving there, he wrote back: a lot of “Chet” is around . . . Many of my teachers have played with Chet.” Wolfgang’s guitar professor, Wim Overgaauw, who gigged live on TV with e.g. Wes Montgomery, recalls this:
“During weekly broadcasts of “on location with guests” with my trio, Chet has been our guest many times. Off-stage we did not have much of a personal contact, but on the stand the contact was very deep, almost bodylike. However, because we never talked about changes, I felt very unsure whether he liked my changes or not. All of a sudden he called me and when I walked towards him, I was very much afraid that he would talk me off, but he grabbed my hand, gazed at me, and spoke the words I will never forget: “Man, you’re a m---er f---er, AND I KNOW IT.”
Nice, December 1991