Vol 2 No.4
A Newsletter Dedicated To Chet Baker And His Music
THE RHYTHM & COOL OF CHET BAKER
by Tom Krehbiel
C D REVIEW, November 1989
Contradictions and conflicting reactions dogged trumpeter Chet Baker through out his career. An undervalued and over-publicized jazz musician, he was caught between the critics - who sniffed at his apparent technical limitations - and the public, which reacted more to his mystique than to his music.
In The Making of Jazz, author James Lincoln Collier all but dismissed Baker completely. "He played within one of the smallest physical and emotional compasses in jazz," Collier said, "rarely raising his voice or venturing out of the middle register. His playing is passive, sometimes to the point of self-pity." But that type of opinion didnít stop critics from nominating Baker in Downbeat magazineís annual poll or voting him into its Hall of Fame in 1989.
Pianist Herbie Hancock backs up those tributes. "Chet was considered a viable threat to the Miles Davis throne," he wrote in the notes to Letís Get Lost. "Even though he played in that cool, California style, with a lightly swinging rhythm, he was one of a handful of the West Coast jazz musicians who played with a subtle strength that was on a par with the great power emanating from the East Coast. The notes he chose had an incredible depth."
Said John Graas, the French horn player who played with Baker in Gerry Mulliganís tentette and participated in Davisí Birth of the Cool sessions, "I think we were all secretly happy at the success of Chet Baker, a guy who uses about one octave in a dynamic range of ppp to mf" in contrast to "the sensationalism of a Pete Candoli or Maynard Ferguson."
There are even stories of Charlie Parker choosing Baker over any other California trumpeter and then returning to New York with a warning to those in the Big Apple that there was "a little white cat on the West Coast whoís going to eat you up."
Undoubtedly, Bakerís music overflowed with nuance, yet he felt obliged to defend his technical approach. The Hip (co-authored by Roy Carr, Brian Case, and Fred Dellar) quotes Baker as saying, "You know, it seems the people are only impressed by three things - either you play fast, or you play high, or be the sound of the instrument itself. Itís not what notes you play." Although Bakerís notes seldom came fiercely or fast, when he hits his personal stride, each one was precisely defined in pitch, time, and timbre. Each carried an inevitable melodic, rhythmic, and emotional impact.
Baker recorded prolifically, and a broad selection of his work is available on CD. This is not a recent development calculated to capitalize on his biographical movie - Letís Get Lost - in which he starred, or his mysterious death in May 1988. Instead it reflects the long-standing esteem for Baker in Europe, the source of much early CD production. He toured there in the early 1950s with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet and later on his own.
It was during that second European sojourn that Baker recorded a series of sessions for the Barclay label in France. PolyGram has released the complete recordings of those sessions on four Emarcy CDs under the general rubric Chet in Paris, with subtitles Featuring Dick Twardzik, Everything Happens to Me, Cheryl, and Alternate Takes.
Chet in Paris documents Baker at his best, includes the bulk of the recorded work of pianist Twardzik, shows the healthy state of jazz in western Europe in the mid-50ís, and demonstrates once again how one strong talent can charge up a studio full of good but unremarkable players.
On volume one Baker and his quartet perform nine tunes with Twardzik, all but one composed by Bob Zeiff. In the liner notes, Alain Tercinel kindly refers to the Zeiff compositions as "unorthodox". Iíd call them affected and self-conscious. Itís no wonder that the one Twardzik composition of the group, "The Girl from Greenland", is generally singled out as the place to hear the pianist at his best.
Twardzik, 24 died of a drug overdose a week after the last of these tracks were recorded. Three days later, Baker was back in the studio with a new quartet (the studio had already been booked). The second volume contains these tunes, mostly standards "Summertime", "Tenderly", and "Autumn in New York"), which provided easily accessible common ground for the newly acquainted musicians.
Baker decided to remain in Europe and made Paris his base of operations. The following month he recorded five more quartet performances, which also are on the second volume. This date produced the only vocal of the set, a touching rendition of Matt Denisí and Tom Adairís "Everything Happens to Me" (unaccountable attributed to Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael). These post-Twardzik quartet performances disclose Baker at his most romantic and most vulnerable. They demand to be heard with the lights low, preferable with a warm companion.
Volume three, Cheryl, features quintet performances and is the most overtly jazzy. By this time, Baker had expanded to a quintet with either Bobby Jasper or Jean-Louis Chautemps playing tenor sax. Jasper was a real kindred spirit. His playing here evokes such tenor stalwarts as Stan Getz and Zoot Sims, with a good dose of Hank Mobley thrown in. Chautemps fills out the ensembles nicely, but doesnít contribute much in terms of solos.
The quintet pieces tend away from standards. They include the Parker blues title track, Al Cohnís "Tasty Puddin", "Phil Ursoís hip "Chekeetah" and "Exitus", and Bakerís "Anticipated Blues", "Speak Low", "How About You", and "Dear Old Stockholm". For those who tuned into jazz during that era, these hip quintet performances can give you the sensation of turning back the clock.
The small band performances occurred at various times throughout Bakerís European tenure. Seven-piece ensembles play arrangements that are typical of the period, very smooth and lightly swinging. There are a few on every disc except volume two. Volume four consists of alternate takes from all but the Twardzik sessions. Itís either a nice introductory sampler or interesting supplement to the set, depending on how you use it. The sound quality on these reissues varies somewhat from session to session. Certainly the quintet sets enjoy the best sonics, while the Twardzik sessions are the weakest from the audio aspect.
Bakerís inspiration was critical to the performances of the European musicians that accompanied him on these dates. How critical can be heard by comparing these recording to Jasperís Memory of Dick, which was recorded the day after the Baker/Jasper set. The personnel is the same except for quitarist Sacha Distel, who occupies Bakerís spot in the lineup. The performances are competent but pedestrian, and sparks are nowhere to be heard. To be fair to the musicians, itís possible that the dull and muddy sonics contribute to the impression of lifelessness.
Baker returned to the U.S. in 1956 and toured as part of the Birdland All-Stars the following year. In 1958, Orrin Keepnews invited Baker to record a set of quartet and quintet performances with hard-swinging East Coast musicians including the potent rhythm team of Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, The result was the superb Chet Baker in New York on Riverside.
Not only does this session serve up plenty of relaxed, swinging Baker, but it contains excellent work by tenor sax player Johnny Griffin and a rare opportunity to hear the seminal bop pianist Al Haig playing beautifully at t time when he was shamefully under-recorded. As a bonus, the Benny Golson compositions "Fair Weather" and "Blue Thoughts" were arranged by Golson for the quintet. Other highlights include the quartet performances of "Polka Dots and Moonbeams " and "When Lights are Low."
The sound on New York leaves something to be desired. The total quality is on the dull side and the dynamics are fairly constructed. I ran into an odd shift of trumpet balance and position during "Soft Winds", a track that originally was released on a compilation LP but has been restored to its rightful place for the CD reissue. Also, Riversideís engineers had difficulty making the switch from mono to stereo.
Transitions in the 60ís were rough on Baker too. He spent time in jails in Germany and Great Britain for drug addicition. Then, toward the end of the decade, Baker was beaten up in San Francisco. The attack took away his teeth - no small loss to a trumpet player - and his interest in performing publicly.
Baker came back in the 70ís and was reunited with Gerry Mulligan at Carnegie Hall in the fall of 1974. CTI recorded the proceeding and issued them on two LPs. The CD reissue, Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker , Carnegie Hall Concert, gathers the music onto one 70-minute disc. Mulligan and Baker play together only on updates of three old classics: "Line for Lyons," "Bernies Tune", and "My Funny Valentine". Joining the two are bassist Ron Carter, drummer Harvey Mason, Dave Samuels on vibes and percussion, John Scofield on guitar, and Bob James at electric and acoustic pianos.
You can hear the effect of the years on Bakerís conception most clearly on the performance of "Valentine". The lyricism is still there, but thereís a dark, brooding quality too. Bakerís tone also is heavier and less precisely controlled. He sits out for three extended performances of newer Mulligan compositions but gets in one quintet number, "There Will Never Be Another You", with trombonist Ed Byrne and the basic rhythm team. On it he vocalized with a weak quaver before coming back for a solid trumpet solo. The sound quality is good mid-70ís stereo.
A few years later, Baker did some work for A&M Records. Much of it consisted of anonymous tootling against overarranged backgrounds, but a batch of straight ahead small group performances recently were discovered and releases as The Best Thing for You. As with the riverside session, Baker is backed by a high voltage rhythm section (Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams) and relishes every minute of it. Paul Desmond plays alto on three of the selections, his last recorded performances.
Baker contributes three exquisite vocals ("Oh, You Crazy Moon," "How Deep Is the Ocean", and "If You Could See Me Now"). His voice is much stronger and fresher than it was three years earlier at Carnegie Hall. Unfortunately, there werenít enough of these simple swinging performances in the vaults to fill a CD, so A&M added an alternate take of "El Morro", a Don Sebesky composition full of ersatz Spanish vamps and rhythmic dislocations played by studio musicians. Things were trendy in the 70ís.
Bakerís last recording are collected on Chet Baker Sings and Plays from the Film Letís Get Lost (1987). His voice - or perhaps his dental work - had deteriorated so badly that the words he intones are often unintelligible and he settles for either the original melodic line or whatever random variation may happen to present itself. His trumpeting actually held up better than his voice, but we donít hear much of it. I imagine that each note was a strain, but each turned into a gem. Less than a year later, Baker was found dead outside his hotel window in Amsterdam.
Perhaps such sad valedictory recordings are necessary. They give us a look at the gritty core of an artistís work with all the beauty and light stripped away. I just fear that this recording will be the first - and last - contact with Chet Baker for many people. His memory and his music deserve better
(Chetís Choice would like to thank Tom Krehbiel and C D Review for allowing us to reprint this article
In this issue we have another of the "Letís Get Lost reviews, the Bruce Weber documentary about Chet Baker. It has now been three years since this film was first shown and I am still amazed at the number of people who, knowing nothing about Chet Baker other than hearing some of his music, can watch this film and then say, "Tlhis is the real Chet Baker." How absurd! I have been listening to Chet Baker since 1952, for 40 years. I have seen documentaries, movies and videos of this musician and the only way I can know the "real" Chet Baker is from the music.
The first time I heard Chet Baker I was lying on a bunk in a Marine Corps Quonset hut in Korea, listening to some jazz on the Armed Forces Radio Network. Over the next few months I heard much more of him, with Gerry Mulligan, and later with Russ Freeman. When I returned to the US I bought a 45 rpm record player and every Chet Baker 45 available. I got all the Mulligan tracks, the Freeman tracks, the ensemble and sextet ones, and the vocal ones.
By the time I got back to North Carolina and college, Chet was in Europe and no new material was in the stores (at least in my area), so I bought Brubeck and Desmond, Basie and Ellington, the Lighthouse All Stars and the Modern Jazz Quartet, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman, not to mention Parker and Gillespie.
Almost ten years later, now married and with a daughter, I found a Chet Baker LP in the record store, "Baby Breeze". My 45s were worn out now (2 sets of them) and I had put them on tape so I could still listen to them. I also wore out "Baby Breeze" and had to put it on tape because of a skip on one track. Again, almost ten years later in 1978 I found another Chet Baker LP in the stores, "Broken Wing". This one immediately went on tape to keep from wearing it out and it was in the mid 80s before I found another copy of that LP. I never was able to find another copy of the "Baby Breeze" LP, but did get a CD of it.
In 1981 a friend in Kansas City sent me a tape without any personnel listing but as soon as I heard it I knew it was Chet Baker. A telephone call told me it was "Chet Baker and Strings" and heíd found it in a used record store. The phone book revealed there was a used record store in town and I began haunting it. Sure enough in a few weeks a copy of the Columbia CSP "Strings" showed up in the 25 cent bin and I pounced on it.
I soon found a local public radio station whose station manager was a jazz historian, Gary Shivers by name, who had a 3-hour jazz radio show every Saturday and I found out that Chet Baker was alive and still recording. There was a local record store (now gone) that would order any Chet Baker material available: Cadence, Dragon, CrissCross, Timeless, Circle, Bingow and I was in heaven. I got hold of a Steeplechase catalog and almost died from pleasure, ordering each LP one at a time to spread out the enjoyment of a continued period of new Chet Baker recordings. (It helped the pocket book to do it that way, too.)
I found out about the haitus of the late 60s and early 70s and found "Carnegie Hall Concert Vol I & II", "She Was Too Good To Me" and "Concierto" in the used record bins. At the record sales I found many of the Jazz West Coast series (I paid $1.00 for "Associated Flavors Of Pacific Jazz" and talked a dealer down from $20.00 to $10.00 for the Jazztone "Mulligan and Baker" and was shocked that I had paid so much for an LP). For years I only had a tape of "Bakerís Holiday" until one week I found a Trip reissue, then the next week found a Pacific Jazz foldout and before the month was out the CD reissue was in the stores.
Oh, CDs. They would never replace LPs - no way! Then "She Was Too Good To Me" came out on CD with an extra track - a friend made me a tape. "Strolliní" came out next with an extra track and I bit the bullet and bought it. Then bought "Too Good" and "Concierto" and a couple of others. Finally I could stand it no longer and bought a CD player. CDs were here to stay. Now, after ten years on intensive collecting, I have over 300 LPs and CDs (not ocunting the tapes and the 45s I started with).
So, what does this long narrative prove? What does 40 years of lord knows how much money spent on collecting Chet Baker material prove? Iíve said it before; no matter what I see in documentaries about Chet, no matter what his wife and friends tell me about Chet, his music tells me that Chet Baker was a beautiful person. He could not have played the way he played and not have been a beautiful individual. No matter what I see and hear about the man, I only have to put on some of his music and I know the man.
The music will last. Long after the documentaries that purport to tell the truth are forgotten, long after the biographers and critics who ignored the system that punished the victims and let the criminals go free are gone, long after the record makers and concert producers who greedily ignored quality in favor of the fast buck are gone, the music will last. Chet was forced to turn his back on his country, his wife and his children and go to Europe where his music was accepted and appreciated and he could make enough money to support the family back in the US. The Europeans came to listen and they bought the records.
I have Brubeck and Desmond, Kenton and Herman, Parker and Gillespie, Basie and Ellington, Getz and Sims, Shank and Woods, Konitz and Dolpy, Evans and Manne, Davis and Rogers, Petrucciani and Hersch, Danko and Galper, Daniels and Goodman, Bix and Ruby, Condon and Teagarden, but mainly I have "the man" and all I have to do is listen and I hear the beauty and I know "the real" Chet Baker.
CONVERSATION WITH FRANK MORGAN
October 27, 1991
Frank Morgan is one of he best alto saxophone players living today. Back in the 50ís at age 17, he was seen as Birdís successor. After playing in the Count Base Band, backing Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker, the child prodigy ended lifeís work of making some of the most lyrical and romantic music in jazz, but perhaps more importantly becoming the human being he wants to be.
Chet mentions Frank in the film LETíS GET LOST as one of the West Coast players he admired. When I called Frank little did I realize that my inquiry about Chet Baker would open up memories of times which Frank is trying to put behind him. All of the interviews I had read were so open, as was the Parley Show. When I wondered if he knew Chet, he replied, "Yes, we were both in jail at the same time once, and I kept him from getting beaten up." Other than to say that, "Chet was a great talent," Frank doesnít want to talk about the days on the West Coast because of all the problems encountered there. Heís very quick to note that many were of his own making; heís obviously not into denying responsibility today.
After he said he didnít want to talk about the old days, I tried to clarify something, and he responded, "Betty, youíre pickingí me." I was, and hadnít realized it, so it was my turn to assume responsibility for my behavior. Part of a recovery program is living in the present and Frankís assertiveness in observing this principle serves him well. I apologized and the interview proceeded focusing on the her and now.
Talking with Frank Morgan was delightful and an inspiration. He is charming, vital, and a real person who talks to you, not at you. He is very direct about his goals: "Iím working on getting my self-esteem back, and Iím doing pretty good. Iím not looking back. Iím searching for peace and quiet, my peace. Iím trying to find out who Frank Morgan is, and Iím doing pretty good."
Frank had just returned from doing a concert at the University in Buffalo with Darryl Grant, a young keyboards. He is excited about doing duos now and he is touring a lot. He has plans to play at the Arts Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with George Cables in January of 1992.
Frankís record MOOD INDIGO got 5 stars in down beat. LONESOME THING is newup in prison because of illegal activities to support a heroin habit which ultimately cost $1,500 per day. Until 1985 he was in and out of prison. While in San Quentin he played in the Wardenís band instead of claiming his rightful place in the jazz world.
The Jane Pauley REAL LIFE segment on Frank was television at its best. She sketched the portrait of a talented musical genius. Born in Minneapolis he moved to Los Angeles at age 14 to live with his father. Stanley Morgan was a guitar player with the Ink Spots, a popular group in the 40ís and 50ís. Dad took Frank to hear Charlie Parker and Frank said, "I have found my voice."
At age 19 Frank was hooked on drugs and convicted of forgery so he spent most of his time in prison. His first recording ,INTRODUCING FRANK MORGAN, received good reviews but Frank did not venture far from the jazz mecca on Central Avenue in Los Angeles, except for his prison stays. Although there were drawbacks, prison offered many secondary gains. While in prison he practiced, performed and was given the star treatment because of his musical ability. He had little motivation to give up drugs until he met Rolalinda Kolb during one of his periodic time outs from prison. This relationship ultimately motivated him to clean up his act, begin respecting his talent and get the courage to play in New York City, where one makes it or breaks it in the jazz world.
When released in 1985, Frank went to New York for the first time and was a smash. The Public and critics loved him. The fear of failure had been confronted. Now the problem was coping with success. Living in a Brooklyn neighborhood where temptation abounds, he maintains his methadone program and goes about his latest. release. Both made the jazz charts. John Snyder, producer of Antilles Records, worked with frank on these hits, as did two young, talented trumpet players, Roy Hargrove and Wynton Marsalis. I wondered how he felt about working with younger musicians and he replied, "Theyíre my teachers." There is no generation gap there, just close harmony.
Fantasy is re-issuing a disc, ALIVE IN SEATTLE, which Frank did in the mid 80ís with Bud Shank, alto sax. DOUBLE IMAGES, a CD with George Cables on piano and Frank on alto has two enchanting and melodic tunes, Blues of Rosalinda written by Frank and Helenís Song written by George. These songs are for their respective wives.
Rosalinda, Frankís wife, is an artist. They are looking for a place in New Mexico. Frank describes Rosalinda as "my leader". This marriage of two creative people seems to provide mutual sustenance for both as they persue their separate careers. On the Pauly show, when asked if there had been difficult times in the relationship, Rosalinda indicated that initially there had been but noted, "Frank Morgan is not an easy person to turn your back on . . . Heís learning how to care about himself and about his great gift and how to take responsibility for it and cultivate and nurture it instead of pawning it." All of us jazz fans are grateful that now Frank Morgan is playing for the world.
Frank and I were closing out the conversation just as the final game of the 1991 World Series was about to begin. Since he was originally from Minnesota, I allowed as how he would probably be pulling for the Twins. He said, "No, Iím for Atlanta; Iím for the underdog." Frank Morgan is no longer an underdog, but Iím rootiní for him just the same.
CONCERT IN CARRBORO, N.C.
31 January 1992
The Arts Center in Carrboro was sold out. College kids, young marrieds, professors and even a couple with a babe-in-arms packed the small auditorium.
Frank Morgan appeared in an African suit of earth colored tones and commandeered the stage. He opened with George Cablesí song, Lullaby, which became a lietmotive to knit the other songs together in a patchwork of gorgeous sound. George Cables was unable to appear and Darryl Grant, a young man who has also played with Betty Carter, was the pianist. Remember his name. Thus far, I have not located any recording of his, but I expect to in the near future. He is a talented artist and composer.
As Frank walked around the stage, memories of Thelonious Monkís 60ís concert in Charlotte returned. When Monk walked around the stage, he seemed removed, in his private world with no room for others. Frank was a magnetic presence who always stayed connected with the audience and seemed to take us with him.
Someone requested Helensís Song and Frank replied, "I only play that when George is with me." He asked the audience to identify a song and the young mother with the babe-in-arms lustily called out the title. There was a warm, intimate family feeling to the whole evening. The lullaby worked for the baby; he never cried once. Although I dreaded the long drive home, this concert had been worth all the effort. betty
by Pauline Kael
May 1, 1989
Since the beginning of movies, what has made a screen performer a star has usually been that he or she functioned as a dream love object for multitudes of people. There are other kinds of stars, of course, but the glamorous figures have been the lifeblood of the movies. (And possible American films have been popular around the world because the figures we fetishized traveled so well: they fit right into the amorous longings of many other cultures.)
As a young man, in the nineteen-fifties, the cool jazz trumpeter and singer Chet Baker had the casual deviltry and the "Blame It On My Youth" handsomeness to become a screen idol. He looked like James Dean, with deep set eyes and a Steve Canyon jaw, and he was slated to appear opposite Natalie Wood in an MGM movie based on his own rise to stardom in the West Coast jazz scene. But Baker, who was taking drugs at the age of twenty four - he later acknowledged that his favorite high was speedballs of heroin and cocaine - was in so much trouble with the police by then that he skipped out to Europe. (Robert Wagner played the jazz-trumpeter role written for Baker; the movie, "All The Fine Young Cannibals," came out in 1960.)
Baker was busted over and over; he served time in Italy, in the United States, and in Britain, and he managed to get himself deported from several countries. He also got beaten up, and on one momentous occasion, in San Francisco in 1968, his teeth were knocked out; it was three years (most of it "on public assistance") before he learned to blow his horn wearing dentures. But with his face caved in he still had his musicianship and his romantic glamour, though in the seventies and eighties it was the glamour of a ravaged dreamboat. In May, 1988, just a few months before "Letís Get Lost", the documentary about him that Bruce Weber was preparing, was first shown, at a European film festival, he died at the age fifty-eight, after a fall from a second-floor window in an Amsterdam hotel near the drug dealersí section of town His road manager said, "It was a hot night. He was probably just sitting on the windowsill and nodded out. One time too many."
"Letís Get Lost" isnít primarily about Chet Baker the jazz musician, itís about Chet Baker the love object, the fetish. Weber, the photographer who does the advertising spreads for Calvin Klein featuring well-muscled male torsos, has a definite "type". His earlier, 1987 documentary, "Broken Noses", centers on the theme of macho as itís exemplified by a lightweight boxer, Andy Minsker, who coached a club of kids ranging in age from ten to sixteen. But Minsker comes across as a lightweight in too many ways. Whatever Weber was trying to indicate about macho was elusive, and the footage becomes somewhat discomforting when the camera lingers on the little boysí beautiful scrawny chests. Near the start of the film, Minsker is said to look like a young Chet Baker, and he does - heís got the jawline and the build. But he doesnít have Bakerís theatrical aura. And when Bakerís languorous music - cool but with a pop sweetness - is heard on the track while Minsker and his brother roughhouse, you may feel that Weber is trying to eroticize footage that doesnít really have much kick. My guess is the by the time Weber finished "Broken Noses" and dedicated it to Baker, heíd realized that it was a warm-up, and that his real subject was the young trumpeter who had fascinated him since he was sixteen and bought his first Cheat Baker record.
Weber proceeded to collect still photographs and film clips from Bakerís early days in L.A. with Charlie Parker (in 1952), Gerry Mulligan (1952-53), and others: from TV appearances in the fifties and sixties: and from quickie movies that Baker acted in in Italy and Hollywood. These finds are intermingled with footage of Weber (off camera) hanging out with the older, ruined Baker and interviewing his friends and associates, his mother, his wives and children and lovers. (Sometimes Minster turns up alongside Baker). Behind it all is a soundtrack made up of Baker recordings that span more than three decades - the idealized essence of the man. And maybe because Weber, despite his lifelong fixation on this charmer, knew him only as a battered, treacherous wreck, in the two hears before his death, "Letís Get Lost" in on of the most suggestive (and unresolved) film ever made. Itís about love, but love with few illusions.
Self-destructive beauties like Chet Baker are attractive to us in ways we canít quite pin down. Then we see him a he was in the early fifties, on the West Coast, he evokes terms like, "beat", "cookl, "dangerous" - all of them tinged with doomy romanticism. And the Santa Monica palm trees, tall against dare skies, are a magical evocation of the smoky era. Weberís visual intuitions are as lyrical and right as Bakerís melodic instincts. (I dug through my dusty pile of 45s and found ten Baker records; he doesnít sing on any of them, but could almost sear you heard the words coming out of his horn.)
You see Chet Baker as a kid who was out for adolescent pleasures: convertibles, pretty girls, booze, drugs. He didnít have to goad himself to master the horn; it came easy to him - he was a natural. He was out for adolescent pleasures all his life. And you see how blank his beauty is and how corrupt he becomes. Weber documents his own obsession with a beauty who had turned into a sunken-eyed deathís-head long before he met him. (The film recalls the scene in "Ugetsu" when the artist finds that his dream Lady is an evil wraith.)
The early photographs of the smooth chested Baker holding his trumpet werenít by Weber, but they have something of the animal magnetism of the expressionless, athletic models in Weberís fashion layouts. Bakerís soft voice can be heard on "Imagination (Is Funny)," and he sings in a glossy pastoral scene from an Italian movie, posed among youthful picnickers. In his later years, Baker was given to beating up on women (and he is said to have ratted on his friends to save himself from arrest). All this time, he was singing romantic songs.
Toward the end, there was an unmistakable whiff of Skid Row con artistry about him, even though he made two hundred thousand dollars his last year. We get to see what drew audiences. He went to the Cannes Film Festival in 1987, when "Broken Noses" was screened there, and his performance at Cannes, singing Elvis Costelloís "Almost Blue", is part of "Letís Get Lost". Wrapped in his romantic myth, he was always a jazz crooner - his voice was always small. Now itís a breathy murmur, yet his stoned, introverted tonelessness is oddly sensuous. He sings very slowly, and the effect is dreamy, the impeccable phrasing sounds like some thing remembered from the deep past (though the song is new). He does what heís been doing for more than thirty-five years, and the crown is hushed. Heís singing a torch song after the flame is gone; heís selling the romance of burnout. (Itís a new kind of Dionysian image - not a frenzy but of oblivion.)
Weber included some rather undistinguished color sequences in "Broken Noses"; this time, working again with the cinema photographer Jeff Preiss, in 16 mm, he sticks to black-and-white, and itís reticent yet expressive, impassioned. The film has its lapses, though. At one point, we hear Baker singing on the track while we see him, haggard and sinister (like a Jack Palance villain), in the Santa Monica sunshine bumping carnival cars. The scene in reminiscent of student films, and it sticks out, because Baker isnít being fetishized here - just pointlessly photographed. Toward the end, Weber throws in a collage of celebrities at Cannes (past and present) which donít belong here. Itís padding and it wrecks the organization of the last half hour. (At two hours, the film is slightly long.)
There are also lapses in moral judgement: badgering the women being interviewed, and setting them against each other. When the singer Ruth Young, whoís from a show-biz family, is questioned about her relationship with Baker, sheís delighted to perform for the camera, and sheís lively, witty and tough. (When she sings, itís clear that she modelled her style on Bakerís.) But Carol, the Englishwoman whoís the mother of three of his children, isnít part of show-biz, and she feels awkward when sheís asked similar questions. She doesnít want to bitch about her childrenís father, and she doesnít want to offend Bakerís mother. (So she blames Ruth for everything thatís gone wrong.) When Carol and also Bakerís mother make it clear that they donít want to talk about certain matters, Weber keeps the camera on them while they plead for privacy. It there perhaps an element of hostility in the way he presses the women? Itís obvious that Baker has been hell on those close to him - why pry and compound their pain? Weber is an artist when he directs so that imagery appears to be one with Bakerís music. When he (Weber) becomes more aggressive (and more petty), as he does with the women, the sequences are just skillful boorish cinema verite
Weber spent his own money on "Letís Get Lost" (over a million dollars), and, of all movies made for obsessive reasons, this is one of the most naked. Itís naked even in the way that this man is thrall to his "type" shows not bond of sympathy with the women who are similarly in thrall. Maybe it took a photographer-director to aestheticism his fetish to such a degree that itís impossible here to separate Chet Baker and scrupulously observed subject from Chet Baker the erotic dream. "Letís Get Lost" is shamelessly true to the (perhaps universal) experience of in actuation.
(The editors of Chetís Choice would like to thank Pauline Kael and The New Yorker Magazine for allowing us to reprint this article.