Vol 4 No.1
A Newsletter Dedicated To Chet Baker And His Music
This interview of Chet Baker was done in 1959 and published in an Italian jazz magazine. Francesco (Cecco) Maino, a member of the Chet Baker chat group was present at that interview and offered to translate it into English for publication in CHET’S CHOICE. Members of the chat list will recognize Cecco as a contributor to the list. Cecco lives in Florence, Italy, and was at the concert recorded and released on Lp and Cd at the Conservatorio Cherubini in Florence and issued on Jazz Anthology and Replica Lps as Exitus, Cool Blues, and Live in Europe 1956. Cecco recorded that concert and is the only one I know of who has a copy of a tune done at the concert but never released on any recording of the concert – a vocal by Chet on I COVER THE WATERFRONT.
Cecco became friends with Chet for many years and at one time was the European Editor of CHET’S CHOICE, during which time he translated this interview
PREFACE TO THE INTERVIEW
The interview was recorded at the Hotel Mediterrane on July 25, 1959, in Florence, Italy. Some media have written that it was recorded on the 26th of July at Fregene, near Rome, at the Festival of Jazz but that is a mistake. Chet was in Florence with his wife Helema and his son Chesney, Jr., and that same night he played a concert in Fiesole, near Florence, in the open air Roman Theater with the Quintetto di Lucca. All questions were asked by Francesco Forti, a musician who plays clarinet and soprano sax, and also an entirely self-taught musician, who prefers traditional music. I could not trace him back (to find him). The interview was published by the Italian Jazz Magazine JAZZ DE IERI E DI OGGI, a monthly magazine of which I was then a regular contributor of my photographs.
The issue of the magazine where the interview was originally published was No 7 of Year 1, September 1959. The copyrights have since then expired and the magazine stopped publication with the December 1960 issue.
THE 1959 INTERVIEW
FF: First of all, Mr. Baker, we would like to know something about your childhood and your youth.
CB: I was born in Yale, Oklahoma, a small town between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
FF: Is your family composed of many members?
CB: No, no, I am an only child.
FF: Is there in your family somebody who plays or like music?
CB: Yes, my father.
FF: Was he a jazz musician?
FF: Which instrument did he play?
CB: The banjo.
FF: I imagine that in his time he would play in a Dixieland group?
CB: In fact, he did.
FF: Did he have any luck as a musician? Did he have an opportunity to make records or play with famous musicians?
CB: He did not have much luck. His musical career was shortened by the depression.
FF: So I imagine that you received your first initiation to jazz from your father?
CB: Well, my father did not want me to start playing until I was older. He wanted me to wait until I was thirteen or fourteen years old.
FF: Was the trumpet your first instrument?
CB: Actually my father wanted me to study the trombone but it did not work for me.
FF: You did not have the lip to play trombone?
CB: No, the slide was too long for my arm.
FF: Or perhaps you did not have a feel for that particular instrument?
CB: So you chose to play a trumpet because you thought it adapted better to your temperament?
CB: It seemed to me the trumpet was more suited to my physique.
FF: What type of jazz did you play around 1943 and 1944?
CB: In 1943 I was not playing jazz yet, not even in 1944. In 1946 I enlisted in the Army and I started to play in an Army band in Berlin.
FF: So you were playing military marches?
CB: Yes, and also a little jazz. I used to listen to recordings and try to play jazz but I did not manage to do it very well. So I left the Army and enrolled in the University where I had more opportunities to play jazz.
FF: What did you study at the University?
CB: Harmony and musical theory.
FF: How did it affect you, an authentic jazz musician, to study music in an academic institution? Please tell me, how did it go?
CB: I failed completely.
FF: Many good musicians do not get along very well with classical music and they still make good jazz music. Perhaps it is more important for a jazzman to have practical experience?
CB: One is born a jazz musician. It is necessary to commit oneself completely, to wish to succeed at all costs. It is a gift that one has or one doesn’t have. It cannot be taught.
FF: But it can be developed?
CB: It can be developed if it already exists. One who has no talent for jazz will never be able to play it. He will eventually become able to play an instrument, a good technician but nothing more.
FF: Many jazz musicians who, apparently, had no formal training have become first rate arrangers: Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan. Gerry told me some time ago that he considers himself a self-taught man. So, one can teach himself to compose jazz music, not only to play it.
CB: Gerry Mulligan has learned a lot of things here and there, from every Tom, Dick and Harry, but it is true that he is mostly a self-taught man. In fact, he has never studied with a teacher but he has profited from things that he learned everyday.
FF: The same as you, then?
CB: I am talking about his capacities as an arranger and a composer.
FF: While talking about his, can you tell me something about the time that you worked with Gerry Mulligan?
CB: I have very good memories of him. We played together in Los Angeles in a small club (the Haig) continuously for ten months.
FF: How did you meet him?
CB: Gerry hitch hiked to Los Angeles from New York. Once in Los Angeles he decided to have a small band and he asked around to see who was available. Someone told him my name so he looked me up and organized a jam session. We realized at once that we were made to play together.
FF: How was it decided to play without a piano?
CB: With or without a piano for me it was the same. I don’t know how it happened. The fact is that we did play without a piano.
FF: What about the arrangements of the quartet – were they written or did they come little by little?
CB: Some of the arrangements were written but most of them came about spontaneously as we played.
FF: It seems incredible that they developed spontaneously, full as they are of subtleties and nuances. After all these years do you still have a high esteem of that music?
CB: The highest esteem.
FF: Which tunes do you like the best?
CB: Oh, I like all the tunes from the first LP album published by Pacific Jazz; the one with Frenesi, Nights at the Turntable, etc. And also the ones from the LP album by Fantasy with Moonlight In Vermont. I also like the recordings made for Capitol with the larger band.
FF: You mean the Tentette. Everybody likes them. They are milestones of jazz. Now, lets go back to your biography. Let us know what happened after you left the Army.
CB: I went to the University and failed completely so I decided to drop out of school and reenlist in the Army, which I did. I was sent to San Francisco where, at night during off duty hours, I used to go to a local jazz club called BOP CITY where Teddy Edwards and Dexter Gordon used to play. For one year almost every night I played with them.
FF: If I am not mistaken you were still very young.
CB: I was twenty years old. I was young.
FF: Had you already mastered the trumpet?
CB: I managed to play fairly well.
FF: I think that I read somewhere that you had an opportunity to play with Charlie Parker. Is that true?
CB: This happened after my second discharge from the Army in 1952. I worked with Charlie Parker for three weeks on the California coast.
FF: Is there something that you particularly remember from this experience?
CB: I remember everything, moment by moment.
FF: It has been, no doubt, an important experience for you.
CB: Yes, it has bee very important.
FF: How did Charlie Parker treat you?
CB: I have no words to express that. He has been like a father to me.
FF: Was he a very human person?
CB: Profoundly human and, at the same time, with the greatest feelings.
FF: Did he teach you, communicate to you something from his enormous jazz artistic experience?
CB: He would not teach exactly. He used to set up all of the details so that everything would go smoothly musically. In other words, in an informal way.
FF: He was a dear person?
CB: Very dear.
FF: After Charlie Parker, from what I understand, then came Gerry Mulligan?
FF: So, what happened after that?
CB: I left Gerry after playing with him for eleven months, started my own band with pianist Russ Freeman, and went my own way.
FF: Your own quartet?
CB: Yes. And from then on I never stopped.
FF: Which are the musicians, jazz musicians, that are closer to your style of playing and those of whom you have felt the most influence?
CB: I have always tried not to let others influence me and I don’t believe that anyone ever influenced me profoundly. On this point I have been adamant – I wanted at all costs to develop my own personal style.
FF: I imagine that you do not usually listen to records?
CB: In fact, no.
FF: Do you feel that it is not advisable to listen at length to other people’s music which could have a negative influence on your style?
CB: Well, perhaps when I was younger, but I don’t risks such dangers anymore.
FF: After you were discharged the second time did you immediately go with Charlie Parker?
CB: No, not at once. There was a period of about a year when I played a lot in the Los Angeles area, sometimes two or three different shows each night and in between I had to drive my car for sixty or seventy kilometers. At that time I already played fairly well so I wanted to be heard and seen by as many people as possible. I was thinking that by doing so sooner or later I could get a good break.
FF: Was Mulligan that break?
CB: Without any doubt. The work I did with Mulligan made me very well known.
FF: After Mulligan, I heard that you recorded with several other musicians. Which ones
did you particularly appreciate?
CB: Bob Brookmeyer, Al Haig, Paul Chambers, Philly Jo Jones, Johnny Griffin, Pepper Adams, Dave Watkins, Dick Twardzik (who is dead now), Jimmy Barne, Bill Erfrel, and others.
FF: Now I would like to know something about your opinions on some currents of modern jazz that are different from yours. For example, what do you think about hard bop?
CB: It is a very abstract jazz style. It can be appreciated only by persons who are trained to listen to music or by the musicians themselves because it is not easy to follow. It is not bread for your average listener and not even for the average concert audience, in clubs, theaters or jam sessions. It is good only for a small group of people who are capable of really understanding it.
FF: What I wanted to know is whether you like this type of music?
CB: It certainly has some value, in fact a very high value and that is the reason that it can be appreciated by only very few people.
FF: But, for example, the music that you, Mulligan and others have developed has a high value and still it is appreciated by a very large audience.
CB: People like it better because it is more lyrical.
FF: Is this the point, that hard bop music has little lyrical content?
CB: Exactly. It is very broken up, very fragmented.
FF: What difference is there between this new bop and the old bop of Charlie Parker?
CB: The old bop was profoundly lyrical. And also it was like a fountain springing continuously in an uninterrupted musical flood, easy to follow.
FF: Do you think that this new music might have negative repercussions for the music that your group has made popular?
CB: I ‘m sure that that is not going to happen.
FF: Your public will not let you down, then?
CB: Anyway, it is my intention to develop from my present style. Besides I think I play today in a very different way from two or three years ago.
FF: Can you give us some idea about the new directions that you intend to follow?
CB: There is a young composer who lives in New York whose name is Bob Zieff. He writes music that is so advanced nobody wants to buy it. Some time ago in Paris I recorded some of his compositions for Blue Star, the LP album titled CHET BAKER IN EUROPE. In that LP the pianist was Dick Twardzik, who died shortly afterward. The music on that album can give you an idea of my actual tendencies and of what I intend to do in the near future. I have this music at heart; it is very different from anything that has been played up to now. I feel this music as if it moved freely on many different levels. For example, if I follow a musical idea that apparently should take me to a given point, suddenly, without my knowing how, I find myself on the completely opposite side, but not illogically on the contrary. This composer manages to create unimaginable harmonic passages without being too complicated and without the need of too many instrumental voices. Three are enough for him. For example, bowed bass, tenor saxophone and trumpet.
FF: Do you intend to work with this musician?
CB: I’ve already recorded four of his compositions for World Pacific, but they have not released them because they have judged them too baffling. The band was composed of cello, bassoon, bass clarinet, French horn, trumpet, bass and, I think, alto sax (1).
FF: It is a really interesting band.
CB: The instrumentations were very interesting too . . . so original that they left you breathless.
FF: Are they perhaps influenced by twelve-tone music, or by the more modern theories of classical music?
CB: I would say yes. Zieff studied modern composition at the Conservatory of Music in Boston. He is still very young, not older that 32 or 33 years of age.
FF: He is a young composer.
CB: Almost a boy. He strolls the street of New York dressed in rags. There are times when he does not have even the money to buy food to eat. And still he has more talent than….
FF: Maybe World Pacific will publish those recordings in a few years. People will be probably ready to accept this kind of music then and buy these records. Do you think that the tastes of the people will go towards the type of music Bob Zieff makes?
CB: Perhaps …..many years from now.
FF: So we must be patient and wait?
CB: But he……can he wait?
FF: Can he wait? This is the question. Does he play any instrument?
CB: Well, he plays the piano, but he plays as a composer.
FF: He could possibly earn a living by playing the piano?
CB: No way. He does not have a chance to work as a pianist. He is too much of a composer.
FF: Then jazz musicians like you must try to help him.
CB: I try to help him any time I can.
FF: Perhaps during your concerts you could play something written by him, maybe only one at a time?
CB: Just before I left New York I lost approximately twenty of his arrangements - music worth three thousand dollars. I left these in a taxicab and it is not possible now to write them again.
FF: Didn’t you keep a copy?
CB: No, unfortunately. He does not make the score – just writes directly on the different parts. He naturally remembers them but how is it possible to write them again … 18 or 20 arrangements. And then I would have to pay him again.
FF: Didn’t you write a name, an address … Perhaps somebody will take them back.
CB: That they are brought back or not depends on the cab driver.
FF: To him they are worth nothing.
CB: To him also bringing them back is worth nothing.
FF: How long ago did this happen?
CB: About two weeks ago. I was taking them with me to Europe.
FF: Perhaps it would help to offer a tip of one hundred dollars, or something like that to anybody who will bring them back.
CB: Who knows……?
FF: Well, to change the subject, can you tell me something about the other currents of jazz, other than the hard bop? What do you think, for example, of the modern chamber jazz music of Jimmy Guiffre, or the Modern Jazz Quartet?
CB: It is chamber music. To me it does not sound like jazz at all. It lacks that inner push.
FF: Let’s speak individually about the two bands. What do you think of the Modern Jazz Quartet?
CB: I like the Modern Jazz Quartet. It is a band where the players have a profound understanding of each other and, with John Lewis as a leader, things will always go well.
FF: What do you think of Jimmy Guiffre’s trio? I think I have heard that they lack that inner push.
CB: To me their music is not jazz, not at all. First of all it is almost all written….
FF: I disagree. They improvise a lot. I happened to hear them recently, live, in two different concerts.
CB: I have only listened to their records. That clarinet sound to me so colorless.
FF: There is not only a clarinet, they also have a saxophone.
CB: A saxophone?
FF: Yes, a tenor sax.
CB: But doesn’t he play a clarinet?
FF: He plays a baritone sax, tenor sax and clarinet. He is supported by an electric guitar and a bass.
CB: Well, it is the same thing. A jazz group without brass instruments cannot help but have a colorless sound, especially if there is a guitar. It is impossible to obtain a strong volume, even when it is necessary. The fact of playing in that whispered way has by itself no musical value. I’ve known Jimmy Guiffre for many years and I appreciate him. But I think that he is more of a composer-arranger than a jazz musician. Naturally he is also good at playing an instrument but he lacks that fire that a reed instrument must have in jazz music.
FF: to put an end to our interview, what are your plans for the immediate future?
CB: After finishing my concerts and other commitments in Italy, I’ll work in Paris for four weeks and then I’ll come back to Italy to record a series of tunes with Len Mercer’s string orchestra. Then I’ll go back to the States and I’ll try to get in touch with bob Zieff and work with him for a new series of arrangements for a sextet maybe. Three lead instruments and three rhythm.
FF: Trumpet and two saxes, or trumpet, sax and trombone?
CB: Probably trumpet, tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone, or trumpet, tenor saxophone and trombone. My ideas are not too clear yet on this makeup.
FF: Did you already plan which jazz musicians you’ll call to your group?
CB: There is a young tenor saxophonist in New York who is very good whose name is Flynn Halliday. And then I would like to have Al Haig on piano.
FF: Any other names?
CB: Not at the moment. When I get back to the States I’ll see who is available.
(1) The four compositions of Bob Zieff’s that Chet recorded were finally released in 1994 in the box set of Chet Baker material from Capitol Records, CHET BAKER THE PACIFIC JAZZ YEARS. Klaus Gottwald mentioned in his last letter that he had asked Michael Cuscuna to trace the Zieff tracks so perhaps we owe him thanks for their release in the box set.
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As Francesco noted he was there when the interview was being conducted, taking photographs. Since he was unable to locate Francesco Forti he undertook to provide an English translation for us to reproduce in the Newsletter. We thank him very much for his efforts and for his letting us reproduce some of his photographs in the article that he took during the interview.
Unfortunately we have not reproduced those photographs here but you can view some of them in Cecco’s photo gallery that is accessible from the main page.
FRANCESCO (CECCO) MAINO
We first became acquainted with Francesco Maino when he became a subscriber to CHET’S CHOICE. It came out that he had attended Chet’s concert at the Conservatori Cherubini in Florence on the 24th of January 1956, which has been released on Lps and Cds by Jazz Anthology and Replica. We were surprised to learn from him that Chet played piano on the COOL BLUES tune. Francesco (Cecco) noted, “I remember asking Chet in the kitchen in an Italian restaurant whether he could confirm that he was really the one who plays the piano there, and he confirmed it by listening to my tape.”
Cecco also noted, “Not all of the music was released. For example I clearly remember Chet singing My Funny Valentine.” Cecco recorded part of the concert and one tune, I Cover the Waterfront, was not on any of the issues released on Lp or Cd.
At that time Cecco mentioned an interview with Chet that was published in an Italian jazz magazine. At one time he had the original English text of the interview but it was lost in the floods in Florence in 1966. He has since then translated it back into English from Italian and it was reproduced in this issue in English for the first time.
Cecco met Chet Baker for the first time at the Cherubini concert (he sent us a photograph of Chet autographing an album cover from him backstage at the concert). When the Italian jazz magazine started up, Cecco drove to Bologna to a concert to get Chet to write a dedication for the magazine.
Cecco was 62 years old when he became the European Editor of CHET’S CHOICE and he has three children – Carlotta, Caterina and a boy Simone – and a granddaughter Camille. He began listening to jazz in the late 30s when his grandparents, who had become United States citizens, sent him some records of Gene Krupa from the United States. He says that he likes all music from the 16th century to John Cage and has “a considerable collection of records that take up too much room.” (Don’t we all, Cecco)
At that time he had known Chet for 24 years but never managed to become friends with him. He feels that Chet “ is the best white jazz trumpet player ever.”
Among other things, Cecco is a photographer who has had his photos published widely and has met quite a few jazz musicians, among whom include Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Wingy Manone and Alex Van Schlippenbach His photograph of Chet was used on the cover of the Intercord album LEAVING, although he was not given credit. This is the photo we ran in Vol III No 1. Cecco also had a record label, CECMA, and has published many jazz albums. He told us he likes Chet’s earlier recordings (50s and 60s) better than the later years.
In April after we had noted that Gunther Skiba was withdrawing as European Editor for awhile because of his work load, we received a telephone call from Cecco offering to fill in as European Editor until Gunther could take up the position again. We quickly agreed to his offer. Later in a letter to us he noted, “We all (Cecco and his family) loved Chet …We all tried to be as friendly as possible to Chet, and as far as the musician was involved we were so amply rewarded that nobody could complain. One of the good things about your publishing CHET’S CHOICE is that it makes us dig into our memories, go back dozens of years, find out and meet old friends who also like Chet, meet and talk and discuss the matters with them and the music and what has happened and so on.”
Cecco, like so many others, has had his ups and downs with Chet Baker over the years, but his love for the musician and his music will be an asset to CHET’S CHOICE.