Vol 3 No.2
A Newsletter Dedicated To Chet Baker And His Music
CONVERSATION WITH JOHN SNYDER
January 3, 1992
John Snyder - independent record producer, lawyer and former manager of Chet Baker - shared his memories of Chet and helped us locate Chetís colleagues. John is a busy man. Our correspondence began in August of 1990, and we were not able to arrange a time to talk until almost a year and on half later.
Whitney Balliett, jazz critic for the NEW YORKER, had just spent a week with John in preparation for a profile. Our conversation was relatively brief, because John was well organized. However, our dialogue was punctuated with ,"I wish I had told Whitney that".
John had a number of projects underway. "Re-Birth of the Cool" is one of the priority sessions on his schedule. Gerry Mulligan will play baritone saxophone, Phil Woods, alto saxophone (Lee Konitz was not available); John Lewis, piano; and Wallace Roney, trumpet, will play the Miles Davis tracks. This re-recording of one of the historic albums with state-of-the-art technology is a benchmark in jazz. The CBS Miles Davis reissues are being done by his company. He has just produced the Harper Brothers and Bobby Short. Frank Morganís recordings, "Mood Indigo" and "Lovesome Thing" produced by John introduced Frank, one of the hottest artists on the jazz circuit, to a wider audience.
"I recently finished new records with George Shearing, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Drew, Jr., Chris Hollyday, and Frank Morganís - ĎYou Must Believe In Spring,í" said John. Others are with Mel Torme, Count Basie/Joe Williams, Ahmad Jamal, John Lewis and Perry Como. Look for reissues of Thelonious Monk, and the Big Bands for BMG: Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, it. al. Blues records are also on the agenda: Albert King, James Cotton, Lucky Peterson, and Johnny Copeland, Big Daddy Kinsey, and Joe Lewis Walker are some of the artists. He also has done the soundtrack for "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge."
Some recordings by artists from the Golden Age of Jazz are: Chet Baker on "You Canít Go Home Again," "Once Upon a Summertime," "The Best Think For You", Dave Brubeckís 25th Anniversary Album; Paul Desmondís "Paul Desmond"; Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie - Paris 1989." He has had numerous Grammy nominations and won for Thad Jones/Mel Lewis - "Live in Munich."
The producerís job of arranging the session, coordinating the choice of songs, making sure that the artists arrive on time are obvious. The technical process of recording is more difficult for the lay person to understand. I asked what was involved in re-mixing and re-mastering. John is gracious about helping me understand, but notes, "This is a very superficial explanation: The Miles Davis tapes were usually 4 tracks. The 2 track masters for LP monophonic were compressed and EQed to accommodate the limitations of the medium. The remastering process restores the tapes to their original state in so far as possible. Then the tapes are re-mixed and re-mastered to insure the best sound. With digital technology the CDís are capable of reproducing the sound more accurately from the restored master."
NORTH CAROLINA CONNECTIONS
Finding people with North Carolina connections has been an unexpected pleasure in my work with CHETí CHOICE, but North Carolina Native, John Snyder has been the biggest surprise of all. A DOWN BEAT article reported that he was a native of Charlotte, NC. Although we works in New York, his wife and 2 children still live in Charlotte. He was home for the Christmas holidays when we arranged to talk on the 3rd.
Johnís career developed in a fortuitous if unpredictable way. He attended The University of North Carolina at Greensboro which began as a womanís college. He was in the first class which admitted males, and only 12 guys lived on campus. "Except for the Music Department, I found out what it was like to be ignored. It was a very superficial environment. The girls were there to learn how to teach a few years and then get married. I had a trumpet scholarship, and I went there to study with Thomas Cousins. I ended up with Thomas Collins, but it was the second semester before I realized who he was." Graduating 2nd in his class in the music school, he realized that he was trained to be a high school band director, not a professional trumpet player. He didnít want to be a band director.
Since he had studied criminal justice, one of his professors suggested that he go to law school. In 1970 John entered the University of North Carolina Law School at Chapel Hill. Gradually John realized, "They werenít just giving you information, they were teaching you what to think. I felt that I didnít want to do that."
In March of his last year at Chapel Hill, he wrote a few New York City law firms and Creed Taylor, producer, at CTI Records about jobs. "I had every record Creed had made since Verve. Creed Wrote, ĎCome on up." John answered, ĎAre you kidding?í Creed assured his this was no joke. John drove up to the Big Apple and what was to be the fulfillment of his lifetime dream, a career in music . . .
The events of that March weekend are etched in his memory. He interviewed with the law firms, went to the Half Note, then saw Creed. Creed played trumpet and had gone to Duke University. (Duke in Durham and Carolina in Chapel Hill are only about 10 miles apart. There is intense rivalry on the athletic fields and courts, but like families-they stick together against the outside world.)
DUKE AND THE CAROLINA HOMEBOY
When John walked in for his interview at CTI he discovered that all 100 employees were New Yorkers. John says, "I guess Creed wanted a homeboy." Creed suggested that John finish law school and come to work in June: he also asked that John take the Bar Exam in New York.
"Everything happened so quickly. When I got on that elevator to leave, there were tears in my eyes." Since he had trained to be a high school band director and a lawyer, neither of which he wanted to be, I asked it he thought his education had been helpful to him as a record producer. "Absolutely, thatís what got me the job." Everything had come together in a marvelous way.
ARTIST AND PRODUCER
As a performing artist and an attorney, he understands both the artistic and business sides of the music industry. "Creed moved me around in every Division. I got to see it all because I was working as Creedís Assistant. CTI folded. I had to get a job, and Herb Alpert of A&M hired me to found the Horizon label. The record Companies thought I knew all Creedís secrets, and I did. Creedís philosophy was Creed knew best and they were just musicians. Artists wanted to play with their own bands, but Creed would hire a group he chose. The artist would be expected to come in to the session and play the solo. Creedís records sold so artists conformed to his wishes rather than their own."
One artist lamented to John, "I drive all night to get here, Iím dead tired. The arranger has to sing the songs to me because I donít know them. Then the record becomes a hit and I have to play it over, and over, and over again. As a musician, John believes that producing a record is a collaborative undertaking. He involves the artist in choosing the songs and the musicians.
GET ME CHET BAKER
John was instrumental in Chetís signing with CTI. About the time John came to New York, Chet began his come back following the infamous beating and lengthy adjustment to dentures. A friend who had recorded Chet playing at a New Jersey club shared the tape with John because they were both big Chet fans. John thought the tape was terrific. "I asked Creed to record Chet for about five months, and Creed said ĎNoí. A woman at a cocktail party asked Creed, ĎWhatís happened to Chet Baker?í Creed called me and said, ĎGet me Chet Baker.í He hired Don Sebesky to do the arrangements and set up a session. What I couldnít do in five months; she did in one night."
"She Was Too Good To Me," is the title song on one of Chetís CTI albums. John didnít produce this album, but he was working at CTI when it was made. I wondered it Chet had picked the song because this is a very obscure Rogers and Hart ballad which was cut from the Broadway Musical, "Simple Simon", and originally titled "He Was Too Good To Me." John thought the arranger, Don Sebesky, picked it, but notes that Chet quickly made it his own. He believes that "Funk in a Deep Freeze" is the only number Chet picked for this recording.
John was Chetís manager for several years and produced "The Best Thing For You," "You Canít Go Home Again," and "Once Upon a Summertime."
I asked if he had any Chet Stories, he remembers several incidents which are uniquely Chet. When Chet was in Italy he met Romano Mussolini, jazz pianist. Romanoís father Benito the Dictator, had been publicly hanged at the end of World War II. Chet wanted to acknowledge Romanoís loss, but this was a difficult situation. Chet managed it with his own combination of jazzman cool and Oklahoma concern. "íHey man, it was a drag about your old man.í"
Chet could be surprisingly thoughtful when he wanted to be. "I gave him my flugelhorn, and five or six years later he returned it saying he didnít use it." This was an unexpected gesture since several of Chetís instruments had been lost, stolen, or pawned.
John wanted to record Chet and Art Pepper redo the Playboy album. That never happened. Art had a falling out with Chet. "Art believed that Chet copped on somebody to get out of going to jail himself." I asked if Art ever ratted on anyone because in his book STRAIGHT LIFE, he made such a deal of never having done that. John said, "No, Art was very self-righteous about that"
MEMORIES OF CHET
There was a note of wistfulness in Johnís voice as we concluded, and he thought of what might have been: "I regret not recording Chet every day, he was one of those Masters. I did another tape which I think is down South in my wifeís closet . . .
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thanks to Kelly, Johnís assistant for coordinating contacts and information. Doug Ramsey, jazz critic, put me in touch with John. Thanks, Doug.
ON THE ROAD WITH CHET BAKER
He wasnít at all the pathetic character everybody liked to see in him. He didnít think himself pathetic, absolutely not! This was his life, this was what he had chosen. The drugs too. It was a fact of life, nothing more and nothing less. And he didnít mind traveling from hotel to hotel with a couple of bags, or sleeping on the floor at a friendís or acquaintanceís occasionally. He was a Gypsy till his last night.
Of course you had to look after him. When he was to perform at some place, and was staying at the hotel so-an-so far away, you had to see to it that he was on the stage at such and such time. Usually it did work. Sometimes you had to pick him up and drive over to the hall. Sometimes he was not to be found and then you had to try and find out on the grapevine where exactly he was hanging out. that could be sweaty hours now and then. He himself always remained . . . cool.
He remained cool when he was to perform at Verona, had to drive from Brussels to Verona and somewhere near Munchen found that he had forgotten his trumpet. Big Deal. He simply drove back to Brussels to pick up the thing. Then, of course, you needed to race, fly and organize. A private plane had to be chartered in Milan, to get him to Verona in time. And of course this time everything fell out well again. Or when he was going to tour Japan. He was still in Rome in some hotel while he should have been on the plane already. He hadnít even applied for a visa. Again everybody was into a state. What nonsense. That visa can be arranged in a minute and heíd simply take the next plane. One day later he was in Japan, perfectly cool, and that same night he played fabulously.
Yes, he was having a hard time now and then. Then he was, fairís fair, not so cool. Had to do with that stuff, of course. You could already hear how matters stood through the phone. He was unpredictable on such occasions. You sometimes had to come with him to get hold of the stuff. He did have his regular addresses but still like someone who was straight to come with him. Just to be sure. But for the rest it was: let me get on with it. In Italy he played on the streets to pay for the petrol for his expensive sportscar. He didnít mind. He had been world famous for two decades when he took on a job as pump attendant in Oklahoma because he was rather hard up. He really didnít mind.
On that particular night it was the same old song again. Where is Chet, guys? No? He will probably be there again. He does know, doesnít he, that he is to play with Archie Shepp in TROS Sesjun tonight?
Panic again. Phoning everywhere. Somebody seen Chet? No? When you see him, tell him we are waiting for him.
Reprinted with permission from TIMELESS RECORDS Catalogue.
(Ed Note: Upon reading this piece Carol Baker stated that she had never known of Chet playing on the street for money.)