Vol 3 No.3
A Newsletter Dedicated To Chet Baker And His Music
A JAZZ GIANT
by Phil Carson
The Pueblo Chieftain
The date is November 2, 1966. Headlines proclaim "Viet Civilians Defy Cong Terrorists" and "Johnson Appeals for Unity in the U.S."
An article about a recent study is headlined: "Men Enjoy Company of Pleasant Women."
Sandy Koufax has won his third By Young Award.
Buckhorn beer sells for 69 cents a six-pack. Ground beef is 45 cents a pound.
And Chet Baker, trumpeter and vocalist extraordinaire, is beginning a three-week stint at Gaetano’s on Santa Fe Drive. Every jazz buff in town puts in a few late nights listening to a master blow cool and hot.
An unknown number of the sessions are quietly taped by drummer Harry Keevis Jr. on a reel-to-reel tape machine nestles among his drums.
After an unlikely set of events spanning 26 years and Baker’s mysterious death in 1988, the tape reaches Baker’s widow, Carol, who last year issued the best portions on a compact disc titled "Chet Baker Live At Pueblo, Colorado, 1966."
In certain circles the release propels Pueblo into jazz history. And local jazz buffs who attended the gigs mark the occasion by remembering a jazz giant, and an era in Pueblo’s musical past.
Baker, 36 when he played Gaetano’s, embodied "West Coast Cool," a jazz sound that developed in Los Angeles in the 1950s in reaction to frenetic New York City bebop. As 22 he played sideman to sax legend Charlie "Bird" Parker, who told Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie: "There’s a little white cat on the West Coast who’s gonna eat you up."
Baker’s boyish good looks, silky voice, mellow horn playing and association with baritone sax player Gerry Mulligan catapulted him to the height of popularity in 1954, when a Downbeat reader’s poll ranked him ahead of contemporaries like Davis, Gillespie, Harry James and Louis Armstrong - though Baker rejected his standing as a passing fancy.
Whether Baker’s birth in Yale, Oklahoma, on the night before Christmas eve, 1929, was star-crossed or not, his association with heroin in the 1950s forever altered the trajectory of his meteoric rise. By the time he reached Pueblo, Baker could be described by associates as a "deceitful, mysterious charmer," whose very survival made fans and lovers "forgive him everything."
Al Aguilar, 56, who today co-manages the KG Men’s Store in Pueblo and gigs in his spare time, is a jazz drummer who played with Baker in California in 1957. After he moved to Pueblo, Aguilar played regularly at the Alpine, another celebrated (now defunct) jazz showcase on First Street. So when Baker came to town in 1966, Aguilar headed to Gaetano’s.
` Inside, Baker and his quartet were having lunch, part of their pay. "I called out,’ Hey Chetty!’" Aguilar recalls today. "And Baker looks around and says, ‘Nobody’s called me that in a long time. Who’s that?’ I told him and we hugged.
"I sat in on one set. And I emceed the first two sets. So my big thing was: "Ladies and gentlemen, Pueblo’s finest supper club presents Liberty recording artist Chet Baker and his quintet.’ And only four guys walked out."
Aguilar still blushes at the memory. And he still recalls the tracks under Baker’s fingertips where the trumpeter was injecting heroin, the bane of the era’s jazz musicians.
"That was the last time I saw him." Aguilar says. "That was part of Pueblo’s jazz heyday. It was something else. The best musicians used to come through, and the audience here - you can’t do anything without a good audience."
That audience was composed of people like Ray Calderon, 63, a retired nightclub owner and former county official who caught most of Baker’s 66 sets.
"I like the night life," Calderon says today. "I went into Gaetano’s as a customer, sat down at the bar, and BS’d with Chet Baker. He was a regular guy."
"Those guys were humble," adds George Shaddy, 61, who in 1966 moonlighted as a bartender at Gaetano’s and recalls serving Baker and his quartet.
One of the surviving members of that quartet is tenor saxophonist Phil Urso, 68, contacted in New Orleans after a gig.
"Chet was very strong at those gigs, very melodic," Urso recalls. "He was magic on the bandstand, it was like an alter. And the people were good to us. The place was packed almost every night."
Urso has been Baker’s best man and briefly lived with the newlyweds in New York City in the early ‘6o0s. According to the liner notes on "Chet Baker in Pueblo," written by Carol Baker, "(Urso) would think nothing of throwing open our bedroom door at 4 o’clock in the morning to play something he had just written.
"(Once) Chet told him he would ‘kick his (expletive deleted) ass’ if he knocked again. Chet loved Phil, but he also loved to sleep."
Today, Urso - whose vocabulary is still spiced with "man!" and "bread" - remembers his friend with nothing but fondness.
"Chet Baker was a great musician on the bandstand, and a wonderful person off it," he says softly. "He knew how to treat people."
Urso relates that Baker was in route to California in the fall of 1966 when the trumpeter stopped in Colorado Springs to visit Keevis, who rustled up the Gaetano’s gigs. Baker is captured on the recently released CD treating his audience to Thelonius Monk’s "Round Midnight." the jazz standard "Green Dolphin Street," Davis’ "Milestones" and the bluesy vocal ballad, "Forgetful."
"Jazz was at its height then," says Calderon. And so, apparently, were local jazz heads. "There were about 10 of us. We were a bunch of nuts. Sometimes we’d load three or four cars and drive to Denver to catch the club scene."
As to his own musical inclinations, Calderon shrugs: "I couldn’t carry a tune if you put it in a bag for me."
A review of Baker’s recordings establishes that despite a hard road nearly four decades long, he never lost his tender voice or his touch on trumpet. Clearly, Baker was that rare artist, one who could capture at will the moods of the soul. A live recording made in Germany before his death in May 1988 (he fell, or was pushed from a small second-story window in Amsterdam) reveals, as one reviewer put it, vocals "full of aching regret" and a "heartbreaking trumpet.
As to locals’ encounter with Baker in Pueblo in 1966, as with so many brushes with jazz giants in the clubs of that era, Calderon says with a smile: "You had to be in the right place at the right time."
That was Pueblo, November 1966.
(Ed Note: Carol Baker still insists that this "gig" could not have taken place in November 1966. She remembers that Chet’s teeth were knocked out in San Francisco shortly after their daughter Missy was born in June of 1966. She noted that Chet couldn’t play the trumpet without those teeth.)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Peter S. Fricano
A few weeks ago we received the following note and letter in the mail from Peter Fricano, who lives in Dunkirk, New York.
"Dear Chet’s Choice:
I have known Diane Vavra since 1961. We are soulmates of a special kind. I was with her through many of the turbulent 18 years of her time with Chet. She has given me permission to share this correspondence with you.
Hope you can use this. Thanks,"
You asked me to send you a few thoughts about Chet. You know I have not written anything about this in a long time. You asked, "Where does all the pain come from?" I have no answer. I know it does not come from drugs. It is something deeper than that.
When Chet opened at (the) New Orleans Club in 1970 (His first major gig after his injury in San Francisco) he played a riff by Charlie Parker to summon the band back to the stage. Chet looked out at the audience and said, "Nobody remembers." Ralph Gleason who was there that night gave Chet a scathing review, ending it with "A Musical Tragedy, a Kalfkian Nightmare". But he heard Chet’s remark. "That’s right Chet, nobody did."
A few weeks later I ran into Gleason at a Fantasy Records picnic and asked him why he had devoted his whole column in the San Francisco Chronicle (Herb Caen length) to the gig with such vengeance. He replied, "You don’t have to stay the whole set to know its bad." I replied, "Did you know Ralph, that after Chet read that review he punched out all the windows in his apartment? It’s one thing to be an honest critic, another to get so carried away with your rhetoric that you lose all sense of compassion." "I didn’t know that," he said.
He left and about half an hour later Gleason came around and said, "Let’s talk about this some more." So we did have a rather lengthy discussion about music, talent, genius, compassion and pain and suffering. We did agree that part of the pain comes from saying something profound and intimate and lyrical and - nobody hears it - nobody remembers.
You remember the tragic note Chet wrote about six months before his death.
That’s what we all hang on to, Chet, I’ll remember you.
I miss you, Diane.
* * * *
A CONVERSATION WITH PHIL MARKOWITZ
April 17, 1993
Phil Markowitz, keyboardist, and composer played with Chet from 1979 to 1983. He currently plays with Dave Liebman’s group. We talked on Saturday prior to his Sunday departure for a 4-week tour in Europe.
CAREER LAUNCHED AT ‘73 NEWPORT JAZZ FESTIVAL
Phil graduated from the Eastman School of music with a major in composition and theory. George Wein, Producer of the Newport Jazz Festival picked Phil’s group as the 1973 Young Artist’s Group of the year, and they played at the Festival.
Following graduation Phil came to New York City and quickly found a place on the music scene, doing studio work by day and gigs at night with Joe Chambers, Jeremy Steig, et. al.
CHET’S 4-YEAR WORKING BAND
In 1978 Phil met Chet through Jon Burr, bassist. Chet was playing at Stryker’s Pub. Following this meeting Chet assembled a group which played with him for approximately four years: Markowitz on piano, Jon Burr on bass, Jeff Brillinger on drums and Roger Rosenberg on baritone sax. Phil says, "We were a good match. We became a working band."
"Chet had just done a record, You Can’t Go Home Again. The arrangements were by Don Sebesky, and we played all those charts. Our first tour was through the mid-west; Jazz Showcase in Chicago, then The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California. We ended at Keystone Corner in San Francisco.
CHET’S BEST GIGS NOT ALWAYS RECORDED
"The band minus Roger and Jon did three long tours of eight to nine weeks in Europe. On the second tour we did two records. Broken Wing (EMI) was done in the afternoon. We played a gig in Paris that evening and, after the gig, we cut Two A Day. The most amazing thing about the whole day was Chet was at his best at the gig. He was really on."
Had the audience inspired him and made the difference? Phil thought not because, "Chet was a quiet, almost insular person. He was extremely attentive to the music. In the truest form of jazz playing, it’s not a show, but really about the interaction between the musicians. Chet always concentrated on his playing and listening. He was certainly one of the most attentive listeners I’ve ever seen on the bandstand. He was not only a master, he was a great student."
KIND OF LIKE MOZART
"From 1978 to 1983 I played almost every gig Chet did for 4 years. He was so lyrical. He had the greatest melodic style and an absolutely flawless sense of time and timing. His linear stuff was so refined, kind of like Mozart. If you took one note out, it would destroy the line. Musically we were very similar, I came up listening to Miles. When I got together with Chet, I was so well versed in the cool and Miles’ mid-60’s period that we clicked. Chet took the Miles influence and kept contemporizing himself."
CHET TAUGHT ME
"I learned a lot about comping and lines. If you played one wrong note, it showed. Chet could read notes, but no changes. He played stuff by ear. He got my head out of the music. While we were on tour Chet finished his solo and put his horn on my music so I couldn’t see. That was a great lesson, and I started memorizing things. I don’t know if it was deliberate or not, but most of Chet’s communication about music was spontaneous and non-verbal..
"His style and demeanor on the bandstand were so precise and defined that if you had any sensitivity you knew what to do. He got the best out of musicians. He was very unselfish. His solos weren’t very long. He would let you stretch out to the max. Both his speech and his music were very concise. If something didn’t please him, he’d let you know, but he was never malicious. Often you didn’t know you’d been zapped until later.
"Chet liked intimate sound. A festival where we played in Germany was held in a huge hockey stadium with the ultimate rock sound system. I’ve never seen Chet this way, but he walked to the microphone and said ‘Turn it down." The volume and inflection in his voice was completely out of character. The audience applauded."
THE CCB LABEL
CCB Records, Carol and Chet’s company, hopes to release one of Carol’s personal tapes which have never been marketed as well as new material and artists whose styles are compatible with Chet’s. Looking For The Light, is the first recording without Chet. Chet baker Live at Buffalo was the initial release followed by Chet Baker at Pueblo Colorado 1966.
Phil has worked with Carol on editing, mastering, and producing the product. Chet made numerous recordings, but got money up front and no royalties. Carol, as executor of the estate, has spent much time and money taking legal action to get the income which is rightfully Chet’s and his heirs. Supporting CCB is supporting Chet’s family. The music business if rife with stories o how musicians make the music, but others reap the financial rewards. For instance, INA, a huge radio conglomerate run by the French Government recently released a radio broadcast that featured Phil with Chet. None of the musicians have been paid, and Phil intends to check on this while he is in Europe.
"Three years ago Artt Frank began work on a biographical screenplay about Chet called, You Can’t Go Home Again. He needed an arrangement of the title song written by Don Sebesky, and asked me to arrange it for a soundtrack demo to accompany the script. Davia Sacks, my wife who is also a singer, lyricist, and composer heard the music and like it so much that she composed the lyrics. I just sent the music, but about a year later Artt called saying he needed lyrics."
The movie is yet to be but a group composed of Artt on drums, Davia on vocals, Phil on piano, Billy Dowling on trumpet, and Dave Liebman on soprano saxophone, have recorded a tribute to Chet called Looking For The Light. Several m\numbers were written especially for Chet. The instrumentals are: Up Chet’s Alley by Phil, and This one’s For Chet by Billy Dowling. Davia wrote the lyrics for You Can’t Go Home Again, and the music and the lyrics for Looking For The Light. Davia’s vocals are a surprise, so different and yet so right. Her lyrics capture the images of Chet’s jazzman life: The Pied Piper, The Wanderer, The Lost Boy. Davia’s voice is pure and crystalline; the passion and lyricism are wrenching. There are reminders of Streisand, but she is her own stylist. Even if you didn’t know Chet Baker, this would be a good jazz album. The fact that it is filled with so much love makes it very special.
CHET THE MAN
Phil recalls Chet as a "very nice, civil, pretty patient man. It took a lot to rile him up, but when he did he really went off for a minute. He was very opinionated, but kept his opinions to himself. If you asked him, he would tell you what he thought. He was very worldly and somewhat cynical.
"I never thought of Chet as an outdoor person but when we did a gig in the mountains of Switzerland we took a walk in the woods. He thoroughly enjoyed it and was into nature." Phil thought this was probably a reminder of his farm days in Oklahoma.
After the amazing comeback following the loss of his teeth, Chet had to use dental adhesive to keep his dentures in place. Only one brand, Fasteeth, worked. Chet did not always femember to keep an adequate supply so there were often desperate, last minute trips to locate stores that stocked Chet’s brand. Without Fasteeth, Chet couldn’t play.
Phil remembers "Chet the Gypsy". He was never encumbered with bank accounts, real estate, or the usual possessions we all think are necessary. He just took his trumpet and went where the music led him."
(Ed note: In addition to the two albums Broken Wing and Two A Day two live sessions that Phil did with Chet have also been released on CD; Live In Chateauvallon and Live At Nicks. There are also some private recordings floating around of jobs that Phil did with Chet. On in particular is from the Montmartre in Copenhagen in December or 1978.
Phil also has a trio session out on CD, Sno’ Peas, with Eddie Gomez and Al Foster on bass and drums. The title track which was written by Phil was recorded by Bill Evans and Toots Thielsmans on the Affinity album. Apparently Bill Evans heard the tune one night when Phil was playing a date with Toots and decided to include it in an album they were working on. In addition to Thielsmans, Phil also worked with the Mel Lewis Orchestra from 1983 to 1985 and with Al Dimeola.
I have always had a certain affection for Phil’s playing. For many years Broken Wing was the only post 1970 album of Chet Baker’s that I could find. To keep from wearing out the album as I did with Baby Breeze I taped it and the only time I played the album was to make another tape (I wore out four tapes). I wouldn’t even let anyone borrow it because I could never find another copy. Anyway, I know that album by heart and that’s why when the CD came out a couple of tracks sounded different and I realized they were alternate tracks.
Phil is right in that Chet always seems better in a live session than in the studio. As much as I love Broken Wing the whole feel of Live At Nick’s is so much more alive, so much more swinging because of that special feeling of spontaneity a live session has. My favorite all-time piano solo is Phil’s on Beautiful Black Eyes on Nick’s album. His solos during this time matched Chet’s solos - spare, single lines - solos not orchestral arrangements. I also dig the quote from "Dixie" Although Phil only worked with Chet for a couple of years, they really made some beautiful music.)
THE CIRCLE SESSIONS
Circle Records is a German company in Koln (Cologne), Germany. In 1980 and 1981 Circle set up their equipment in three different night clubs to record Chet Baker and his group on the particular nights. These sessions resulted in ten LP records and two CDs. The LPs run in length from 37 minutes to almost 60 minutes.
The first session was on the 22nd of March, 1980, at the Subway Club in Koln. Chet was working with a quartet that night with Nicola Stillo on flute, Dennis Luxion on piano and Riccardo del Fra on bass. This session produced three LPs: In Your Own Sweet Way, Just Friends, and Down.
The second session was at the Le Dreher Club in Paris, France, on the 25th and 27th of June, 1980, and resulted in four LPs: Night Bird, Tune Up, It Never Entered My Mind and Conception; and two CDs: Tune Up and Night Bird. All of the tunes on the CDs are on the LPs except for a twenty five minute rendition of Russ Freeman’s No Ties, recorded on the 27th and not issued previously. The musicians on this session were Karl Ratzer on guitar, Nicola Stillo on flute, Reccardo del Fra on bass and Al Levitt on drums on some of the numbers.
The final Circle session was recorded at the Salt Peanuts Club in Koln on the 21st, 23rd and 25th of May, 1981, and resulted in three LPs: My Funny Valentine, Round Midnight and I remember You. The musicians on this engagement were Chet on vocal and trumpet, Jon Eardly on flugelhorn, Bob Mover on alto sax, Dennis Luxion on piano, Rocky Knauer on bass and Burkhart Ruckert on drums on the 21st and 23rd sessions.
The Circle people can get a lot of music on one LP as witnessed by the 60 minute album, In Your Own Sweet Way and Tune Up. They do this be leaving less space between the grooves so you have to be very careful because it is easy to get a scratch or glitch in the vinyl.
When I first found these Circle sessions in the store there were only two LPs: In Your Own Sweet Way and Tune Up. This was before I really got into collecting and I agonized over which one to buy, finally selecting the Tune Up disc. The next evening (a Sunday) I listened to a jazz program hosted by the proprietor of the record store and he played the 27 minute No Ties track from the other LP on the air. I was on the phone to him at the station before the track was finished making him promise to hold the other disc until I could get to the store the next day and buy it. This store sold new and used LPs, mainly jazz, and I spent many an hour (and dollar) in there. It was a sad day for all jazz fans in the area when it closed.
THE FIRST SESSION
The Subway Club session first LP begins with Chet introducing the guys in the band and then he goes into a twenty seven and one half minute rendition of Russ Freeman’s No Ties, taken a medium tempo, not at the breakneck speed with which the original recording was played, although Chet does play in places where the notes ‘flow like a waterfall’, Chet makes a short statement of the melody and then takes off on a fourteen minute solo, which runs the gamut from sweet and soft to fast and hot. At one point Chet uses a "colorful metaphor" to express disgust with his inability to "blow" what he wants to say. I don’t know how many choruses he plays because every time I try to count them I get carried away by the music and lose count.
The Dave Brubeck tune In Your Own Sweet Way is next up. The Quartet plays it in a medum tempo for fifteen minutes.
Old Devil Moon, the next cut, is a tune seldom recorded by Chet and the quartet takes this sixteen minute track at a fast pace.
Just Friends, the second LP, has two tracks: a twenty five minute title track and on the other side a twenty three minute run through of Horace Silver’s tune, Doodlin’.
The third LP from this session , Down also has two tracks. One is a seventeen minute playing of Russ Freeman’s Afternoon At Home from the Chet Baker-Russ Freeman Quartet 1956 Pacific Jazz album. On the flip side is a twenty minute track of the title tune, written by Kenny Dorham. All in all three great discs of some very nice live playing by the Quartet.
THE SECOND SESSION
The second session from Le Dreher Club in Paris features the same musicians except for the German guitarist Karl Ratzer in for Dennis Luxion and Al Levitt plays drums on some tracke.
The first LP in this session is Night Bird and consists of Jimmy Heath’s D’s Dilemma (15’20), and on the other side are Enrice Perananunzi’s Night Bird (13’25), and Bud Powell’s Tempus Fugit (11’15).
The next disc is Tune Up with There’ll Never Be Another You for eighteen and a half minutes, Richie Bierach’s Leaving for eighteen minutes and Miles Davis’ Tune Up for eleven minutes.
The third LP in this set is Conception which features Wayne Shorter’s Beautiful Black Eyes (20’15), The Touch Of Your Lips by Ray Noble, a vocal (16’05), and George Shearing’s Conception (15’12).
The fourth LP, It Never Entered My Mind, also has three tracks, the title track for eighteen minutes Just Friends for thirteen minutes and I Remember You for twelve minutes.
THE THIRD SESSION
This session at the Salt Peanuts Club in Koln in my opinion is the best of the bunch. Dennis Luxion is back on piano with Rocky Knauer and Burkhart Ruckert on bass and drums, but there are three horns on the front line now. Bob Mover, an alto saxophonist who played some in the early 70s with Chet is back on alto and Jon Eardly, who was the first trumpet player to take Chet’s place with the Mulligan quartet, is playing fluglehorn.
The numbers from the three nights at the Salt Peanuts feature some great heads. For those that might not know, a ‘head’ is an arrangement that is not written down. It is usually worked out in a rehersal session and is played that way from then on. Eardley’s mellow fluglehorn and Mover’s alto blend with Chet’s trumpet to create a warm, pleasing sound together and a backdrop for some of the solos.
The first disc has four tracks; Jimmy Heath’s Resonant Emotions (9’ 50), Ray Brown’s Ray’s Ideas (13’00), My Funny Valentine (7’ 50) and If I Should Lose You (14’30).
I Remember You, the second LP also has four numbers; Jon Eardley’s Belle Meade (12’30), I Remember You (10’ 06) Pieranunzi’s Night Bird (10’ 12) and Powell’s Tempus Fugit (8’ 36).
The Last disc, Round Midnight, has five tracks; Dennis Luxion’s Prayer For The Newborn (7’ 08), a vocal My Ideal (8’ 16), Tadd Dameron’s Lady Bird (7’13), Monk’s Round Midnight (9’ 37), and Same Rivers’ Beatrice (14’ 45).
The CDs were both taken from the Le Dreher session and were issued by West Wind. On the first CD. Night Bird, Leaving, D’s Dilemma, Night Bird, Tempus Fugit and Tune Up.
The second CD, Tune Up, has the title track again plus There Will Never Be Another You and No Ties track previously unissued.