Vol 4 No.2
A Newsletter Dedicated To Chet Baker And His Music
A CONVERSATION WITH WILLIAM CLAXTON
February 21 & July 23, 1994
William Claxton, photographer, was there when Chet Baker played with Charlie Parker at the Tiffany Club in June of 1952. Now he has published a book: YOUNG CHET, A PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY OF LEGENDARY JAZZMAN CHET BAKER. The French and German editions were released in the fall of 1993. An English edition is available in England; readers may contact the publisher directly in Munich (Schirmer/Mosel, Franz-Joseph-Strasse 12 8000 - Munchen 40, Germany. There is a USA book dealer to contact: Arthur L. Newman, Jazz Books, 10325 Elk River Court, Fountain Valley, CA 92708, 714-968-3706). When the American edition is released, CHET’S CHOICE, will post details.
The book covers the years 1952 through 1957, and is a visual feast for any Chet fan. Through CHET’S CHOICE, Claxton realized there was an audience who would be interested in the early pictures of Chet. In addition to the marvelous photographs, Claxton has some wonderful Chet stories to tell.
CLAXTON’S RECENT ACTIVITIES
Claxton is currently working on a photographic project about Steve McQueen.
Two days before the January 17, 1994, earthquake, Claxton had been in the Czech Republic on a movie assignment. On January 16, he and the family went out to dinner to celebrate his homecoming. The next morning at 4:30 a.m., they were awakened. The 3-level structure built on the side of a hill in Benedict Canyon was shaking. The bedrooms are on the top level. He, his wife and son survived, but much of their glass collection and art work had been smashed. The concrete slab from the garage on the middle level had moved in and out ot the living room leaving a huge hole in the wall.
In the midst of all this destruction, they saw the kitchen floor slathered with a combination of salad dressings, juice, and food, painting a revolting collage. The refrigerator door had opened, emptied its contents, then the quake shook it closed. This closed refrigerator door seemed a ridiculous return to order in the midst of chaos, providing a laugh in an otherwide terrifying situation.
Fortunately the house is structurally sound, and safe to live in, but not without some major repairs. Clax wondered what Chet might have done in a similar situation, and surmised that he probably would have grabbed his horn and left.
BIRD, CHET AND CLAX
"In 1952," Claxton says, "I was a college student majoring in psychology and art and taking pictures for pleasure, as well as to earn my way through college, when I heard that Charlie Parker was coming to the Tiffany Club. Charlie Parker was my hero, and I went down to hear him.
"I met Chet that night and talked to him. Chet had an angelic face but also looked like a prize fighter..." After the gig was over on Friday night, Bird wanted something to eat but everything was closed. Claxton’s parents were out of town so he invited Bird to his house for the evening which turned into a weekend. Charlie was not on narcotics then, but was drinkin a lot. Between swims in the pool, drinks, and eating, Charlie kept Claxton and his friends entertained with anecdotes about his experiences and gossip about the jazz worls.
Claxton asked Bird why he picked Chet out of all the top trumpeters in the L A area who came out for the audition. Claxton recalls Bird’s very words: "I mead, that young cat played just pure and simple, know what I mean? Kind of like Bix Beiderbecke (Bird coined the term Bixilated). Something about him and his playing was like that, and I felt it in just a few seconds of his playing; I knew he was right.’"
When asked if he had heard that Art Farmer was to play this gig with Bird, Claxton replied, "Yes, but I also heard that Howard McGee was to be the trumpet player" - so much for rumors.
Dick Bock sent a telegram to Chet telling him to get down to the audition. When Chet arrived, he played a couple of tunes and Bird reportedly said, "That’s it." According to the legend, when Bird returned to New York, he told Miles, "There’s a little white cat on the West Coast who’s gonna eat you up." Whether this is true or not, we know that Bird chose Chet.
Claxton said, "Eight months later Gerry Mulligan and Chet made jazz history together at the Haig, a little jazz club in L A, with their pianoless quartet. Dick Bock founded Pacific Jazz Records, and hired me to be art director and do photographic work. Later I became a partner."
The book YOUNG CHET has a photo of Frank Morgan, who made a sensational debut in 1955, but dropped from sight because of prison stays and didn’t record again until the mid ‘80,s. Now that Frank is hot again, it is great to see a picture of the young Frank Morgan.
There are terrific shots of the famous Haig date with Gerry Mulligan. Stan Getz, Russ Freeman, Herb Geller, Chico Hamilton, Jack Montrose, Bud Shank, Zoot Sims, Phil Urso, and Art Pepper are some of the musicians who appear; the list goes on. Chet’s second wife, Helima, and a girlfriend, Lili, also appear.
CHET THE PIANO MAN
"He sat at the piano quite often playing melody lines and some chords, but mostly he just noodled," said Claxton. There are two photos of Chet at the piano, In the film LET’S GET LOST, Chet mentions plans to get a house in Paris with a piano so he can compose. His only piano recordings of which we’re aware are: COOL BLUES, Bird’s tune which appears on the CD, COOL WAY TO FLORENCE, and his last quartet album, CHET BAKER LIVE IN ROSENHEIM, doing Jobin’s "Portrait in Black and White." He plays chords on the Florence disc; however, his one-finger rendition of "Portrait" is as emotion filled as his trumpet solos.
CHET BAKER WORE KHAKIS
Claxton was instrumental in having Chet’s picture appear in the series of GAP advertisements which depict famous persons who wore khakis. The picture of Helima and Chet in the ad is is the book and also on the back of the dustcover. Claxton put the company in touch with Carol Baker so Royalties could be negotiated for the estate.
THE LAST PHOTOGRAPHS
"In 1957, I realized he was hooked on heroin, and he was not much fun to be around. He left the country in 1957, and was treated like a god in Europe. In the 60’s and 70’s he played pretty well, but he just disintegrated physically. He had been a natural athlete: Skiing, boating, and he swam well; it was so sad."
Claxton and his wife, Peggy Moffitt, a high fashion model in the Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy era, also lived and worked in London and Paris. "One evening, I was waiting for a flight out of the Rome airport. I happened to look down the concourse and saw this guy in a T shirt, Levis, and sandals carrying a trumpet sauntering down the way. I recognized Chet, who smiled and said, ‘Hi, Clax,’ as though he had just seen me the day before, ‘Can you lend me 60 pounds? I need to get hack to Amsterdam." He had no luggage, just a horn. The night was cold and windy so I have him my sweater which just hung on his 5’6" frame; I’m a big guy, 6’5". He wandered off into the night in my baggy sweater looking as though he hadn’t a care in the world."
HIS OWN QUIET WAY
"Chet was a natural musician. He was intelligent, but not very well educated. He was quite determined. When there was a problem, he’d smile, discuss it, and tet his own way very quietly. He was articulate in a laconic manner. Conversations tended to be very short with responses such as,’Yea, that’s the way it is,’ and ‘Yeah, that’s the way I feel’"
L A JAM SESSION
Falcon’s Lair, silent movie idol Rudolph Valentino’s home in Benedict Canyon, was an historic film town mansion. Doris Duke, of the Duke tobacco millions, bought it and built a beautiful music room for her friend, pianist Joe Castro, who hosted some wonderful jam sessions. "Chet and I had some great times there. I remember one night Chet, June Christy, her husband, Bob Cooper, and Art Farmer were there. Chet and June sang a medley of standards with Coop playing sax in the background. When they finished "Everytime We Say Goodbye," the whole room was silent. Then Art Farmer called out, ‘Chet, you should sing that on your next album.’"
Chet was terribly photogenic. He enjoyed being photographed, but never appeared to pose. Claxton said, "Chet taught me what the term photogenic meant." One of Chet’s most remarkable achievements was his ability to hide a missing front tooth which was lost in an accident when he was 13. His photographs never showed it. He told Claxton that he didn’t want to replace the tooth because he was afraid it would change his embouchure. Of course, in 1966 his teeth were damaged in the imfamous San Francisco beating and eventually had to be removed. His comeback after learning to play with dentures is nothing short of miraculous. Only one other trumpet player, Bunk Johnson, had managed this so far as we know.
What a coincidence that the musician who played by ear and the photographer who had a natural eye found each other and left such a wonderful legacy.
* * * *
Vol IV, No. 2
Not long ago I had a telephone call from Contributing Editor Gunther Skiba telling me that Jacques Pelzer had died. I was shocked. I knew of Jacques’ age but as far as I knew he had had no health problems. Gunther informed me that a friend of his, Archi Bechlenberg, who was also a friend of Jacques’, had told him of Jacques’ death.
Gunther told me that Archi might be willing to write something about Jacques’ death and gave me his fax number in Aachen, Germany. I faxed Archi and he agreed to write something, faxing it to me the next day. I then asked him for osme information about himself which he faxed me.
So, in about three days, by fax and telephone, between North Carolina and Germany we have the following article about the death of Jacques Pelzer..
JACQUES PELZER 1924-1994
On the 6th of August Jacques Pelzer died from a heart attack in Liege, Belgium.
Jacques was in Europe one of Chet Baker’s best friends for more than 25 years. Chet lived in Jacques’ house in Liege for quite a long time. They toured through Europe together (and twice in the States) and made recordings together. Jacques and his daughter Micheline cared for Chet and helped him wherever they could.
Just six weeks before his death, we celebrated Jacques 70th birthday. There was one big celebration near Liege, where many of his friends came together, among them Toots Thielemans, Sadi, Philip Catherine, and another one week later on the day of his birthday in Gouvy/Belgium with a.o. Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, Eric Legnini and Micheline Pelzer. At the end of July, Jacques played on the Adolphe Sax Memorial Festival in Dinant/B.
On the weekend 5-7 August there was the 15th Jazz Festival in Gouvy/Belgium, to which Jacques Pelzer was the fatherly friend from the beginning in the late 70’s. Many friends were wondering why he was not there on Friday because he always was. And on this Friday, there was a little ceremony for Hein van de Geyn, who is also a true friend to this festival, and everybody expected Jacques to be there. Someone called Jacques at home and he said that he was not feeling well, but that he would be sure to come on Saturday. So the next day they called him again and he seemed to feel better. They made an appointment to call him a 4 p.m. again to pick him up at home after. But, when this call was made, the ambulance had just arrived. And then at about 5:30 p.m. the message came that Jacques had died just a few minutes ago from a heart attack.
There was mourning all around on the festival area. Jacques Pelzer was dead.
On that evening played a.o. Horace Parlan, Harold Danko, Hein van de Geyn and Gary Thomas and they dedicated their concerts to this great man.
Jacques Pelzer was born on the 24th of June, 1924, in Liege/Belgium. He studied pharmacy on request of his father and later he was the owner of a pharmacy shop (which he rented to someone). But his love since the 30’s was jazz. He started playing, first on piano, then clarinet, guitar and flute and came so to his main instrument, the alto sax. Shortly after the second world war he went to Paris and was one of the first "boppers" in Europe. He founded the group BOB SHOTS and played with Bobby Jasper, Rene Thomas, Sadi, Don Byas and many more. Influences came from Lee Konitz, but also from Africa, later from Ornette Coleman and, of course, from his closest friend, Chet Baker.
Besides his great friendship to Chet, Jacques was a dear friend to so many musicians that it is impossible to mention them all. Archie Shepp, Stan Getz, Woody Shaw all lived in Pelzer’s house when they toured in Europe. And so many young musicians from France, Belgium and the Netherlands owe so much to him for his advice and help. And he was active until the end. Not long ago he had recorded with Philip Catherine and he was active in the realization of a jazz documentary center, the Jazz House, which will be opened in September. Everybody is sad that he will not be there that day.
On his birthday I talked with Jacques about a project I had been thinking about for months. It should be a book with the title "Chet & Jacques - Chet Baker in Liege," which was thought of as a text and photo documentation about the time that Chet spent here in Liege. Then I went to holiday, happy to come back to see Jacques and start talking with him about the book. On Friday I returned from holiday and went to Gouvy, desirous to meet Jacques. But we never met again.
picture, text & motion
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