Vol 5 No.1
A Newsletter Dedicated To Chet Baker And His Music
CONVERSATION WITH DOUG RAMSEY
August 20, 1994
Doug Ramsey, Senior Vice President of the Foundation For American Communication (FACS) and writer, works in Los Angeles and lives in Northridge, CA. His home is only six blocks from the epicenter of the January 1994 earthquake. We were pleased to learn that no one was injured and the house is structurally sound. Lots of possessions were lost, but the important things remain.
Ramsey began his long affair with jazz in junior high when he studied trumpet. Although he chose print journalism for his vocation, jazz has remained a serious avocation.
At the University of Washington he studied journalism then joined the Seattle Times in 1956 as police reporter and copy editor. After receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, he became the first Marine officer ever assigned to Armed Forces Radio. Following the end of active duty with the Marines, he criss-crossed the country in various positions with television news before coming to his present position at FACS in 1983.
With his dark good looks and a voice as creamy and piquant as a New Orleans Ramos gin fizz, it was inevitable that he would gravitate to television. He worked as a reporter, anchorman and news director in Portland, Cleveland, San Antonio, New York City, and New Orleans among other markets. As chief correspondent for UPI Television News he covered the United Nations, Washington, DC, and the White House. Following the stint with UPI, Doug returned to New Orleans as news director, a position he also held at television stations in San Antonio and San Francisco.
Having had an opportunity to live in disparate parts of the country, he gained first hand knowledge which adds depth and breadth to his writing. His book, JAZZ MATTERS Reflections On The Music & Some of Its Makers, is a treat for jazz lovers. It also makes terrific reading for anyone interested in biography because Ramsey infuses the musicians with flesh and blood while attending to the creative genius which makes them extraordinary. The book is like a visit with old friends, and most of them are Ramsey’s friends.
“JAZZ IS WHERE YOU FIND IT”
Ramsey says, “I began listening to jazz when I was about thirteen or fourteen.” Don Lanphere, a bop tenor saxophonist who recorded with Fats Navarro and Duke Jordan was from Ramsey’s hometown, Wanatchee, WA, “The Apple Capitol of the world and the Buckle of the Power Belt of the Great Northwest.” Between gigs, Lanphere came home to Wanatchee and worked in his father’s music store. A legendary Northwest pianist named Jack Brownlow and Lanphere introduced Ramsey to a music world far beyond the high school band in which he was playing. Ramsey writes, “Lanphere knew Miles and saw to it that I listened to those first Birth of the Cool 78s in a booth at Belmont Radio & Music.” Ramsey heard Miles live for the first time in New York City at The Gallery in Greenwich Village. Miles was playing with Paul Chambers (b), Philly Joe Jones (d), Wynton Kelly (p), J J Johnson (tb), and the music was terrific. As related in JAZZ MATTERS during one of the breaks Miles came to the bar and took a seat next to Doug. “I had heard all those stories about Miles’ surliness and wasn’t about to get him riled up by coming on like the hick fan I was. But he initiated a conversation and for maybe twenty minutes we made small talk, little of it about music. The freezing weather came up, and I recall, the New York newspaper strike, foreign cars, and Teddy Wilson. The Wilson trio was on the same bill.
“There was no handshake, no exchange of names. Then, as Miles got up to return to the stand, he asked where I was from. No place he’d ever heard of, I said, Wenatchee, Washington. He paused a moment, then said, ‘Say hello to Don Lanphere.’ Don was pleased.”
Ramsey’s love of jazz was nurtured in a small western town, but has traveled the country jazz matters as carefully as a modern day Johnny Appleseed. He has always kept a day job, but he continues to be a positive force in jazz, helping people understand and appreciate our indigenous art form.
The first New Orleans Jazz Festival was a memorable occasion for several reasons. He got to visit with good friends, Paul Desmond and Zoot Sims, and citizens of New Orleans were involved in helping with the festival. Some who thought jazz began and ended with Dixieland learned that jazz had evolved into a complex art form. “The New Orleans Jazz Festival was the only event in which I was actually involved in the production end,” said Ramsey. As one of the original board members for the festival, Ramsey insisted that Willis Conover of the Voice of America produce because he knew what Willis could do. Willis agreed to come to New Orleans. “When deliberations began on the all-star group we wanted as a house band, Willis Conover …said, ‘we’ll have to have Zoot, and of course, we all nodded. Then we went on to pick the rest of the players.”
Desmond came to New Orleans for the festival and Ramsey describes the visit: “We avoided the strip joints and pseudo-jazz clubs and concentrated on little bars known to tourists only if they stumbled in. And we listened to all the music we could absorb at that remarkable festival, still remembered by musicians and audiences alike as the finest jazz festival ever and described by Desmond one night on a television program I was conducting as ‘the most civilized I have ever attended.’ That was the year before New Orleans became just another stop for the Newport road show. In 1969 Paul was in the all-star band assembled by Willis Conover for Duke Ellington’s seventieth birthday party at the White House,” which Doug describes, “as the only domestic affairs high point of the Nixon administration.”
Both Zoot and Paul were remarkable saxophonists and human beings. When we mentioned regret that neither was here so we could interview them, Ramsey responded, “I, too, wish Paul and Zoot were alive. Every day, I wish that.”
While in television Ramsey conducted talk shows, as he says, “Back when talk shows really were about conversation,” on various topics of general social and cultural interest as well as interview shows with jazz artists. When we first thought of doing CHET’S CHOICE we asked for his help. After reading JAZZ MATTERS, we tracked him to FACS through the reference room at the local public library. He was supportive of our dream and helped us contact people who had worked with Chet. We believe this behavior is typical of Doug.
RAMSEY THE REALIST
Many of us hope jazz will be back on the pop charts again, and recall with fond memories when TIME Magazine in the Brubeck article of 1954 noted, “Jazz … has become a big moneymaker for the big labels.” Ramsey knows that jazz has developed into an art form and he said in his book, “… has only a slightly stronger chance than chamber music of making it to the top of the popularity charts or even of paying most of its players a comfortable wage.”
In his work at FACS, he is in the forefront of adult education. The era when formal education ends with a college degree is gone. The information age demands continuing education. Ramsey says, “We train professors to teach economic, environmental and ethical issues. The training is intense, with a good dose of academics. My job is to engage the experts, and help them design the course for adults. This is different from teaching college courses. FACS’s work is underwritten by news organizations and private foundations. We accept no corporate or government funding.”
RAMSEY’S RECENT WORK
Although JAZZ MATTERS is a compilation of pieces written over the past 30 years, adding the introductory material to supply biographical information and historical context was an enormous task. Ramsey says, “I always have another book in the back of my mind. Working full time in a job that involves travel doesn’t leave much time for writing but I plan to get around to it.”
He writes for JAZZ TIMES, is a contributing editor of TEXAS MONTHLY and participates in the annual DOWN BEAT, JAZZ TIMES and VILLAGE VOICE critic’s polls. He has written liner notes for nearly 100 albums. DAVE BRUBECK, TIME SIGNATURES, A CARRER RETROSPECTIVE is a four CD box set from Columbia
(#C4K 52945), with a booklet on Brubeck’s career. Ramsey’s liner notes are approximately 40 pages long, and give detailed descriptions of Brubeck, the man and his work. The whole booklet is beautifully done. Ramsey dropped a bombshell on this reader in a passage about Dave’s college education: “Sometimes he (Brubeck) wasn’t allowed to explain simply by playing an answer to a musical question. Finally, forced to take a keyboard class, the deceiver was exposed. The professor reported to the dean the inescapable, astounding fact that Dave Brubeck, a senior in the music conservatory, the brother to two distinguished conservatory graduates, the son of a respected music teacher, could not read music.”
Ramsey also wrote the notes on Brubeck’s new release for Telarc, LATE NIGHT BRUBECK, LIVE FROM THE BLUE NOTE (#CD 83345). After years in concert venues, Dave is back in a club.
Writing the notes for a just discovered tape from the 80’s of Red Mitchell and Warne Marsh is one of Ramsey’s most recent projects. He is excited about the first recording of Jay Collins, a 26-year-old tenor saxophone player who hails from Portland OR, but is living in New York City. Ramsey has just completed the notes for this debut album on the Reservoir label.
The video of WoodWinds West which we mentioned in our interview with Frank Strazzeri has been released. In addition to the music of the WoodWinds West - a group composed of Strazzeri (p), Pete Cristlieb (ts/c), Jack Nimitz (bs/bc), Dave Stone (b), and Paul Kreiback (d) – Doug Ramsey facilitates a discussion with the group. You may order the video and/or the CD from Jazz Mark II, PO Box 943, El Dorado, Arkansas 71730.
DOUG RAMSEY MEETS CHET BAKER
“I first met Chet when I was working for UPI Television News. My crew and I filmed a piece at the rehearsal for his opening at the Half Note. This was after the Canterinos moved from downtown to the midtown location.”
Following the rehearsal, Ramsey returned with two companions for the performance. He writes, “… ten or fifteen years packed with the most damaging kinds of personal problems kept Chet Baker off the scene and out of most listeners’ minds so that when he resurfaced in New York in 1973 for an engagement at the Half Note, it seemed that he had been resurrected …” The singing had acquired a new quality, innocence tempered with experience, the phrasing even more musicianly than in the old days.”
On another New York gig at Stryker’s Pub, the sidemen and Chet were not clicking, Baker was fighting not only a bad bassist but a loud audience. Ramsey writes in JAZZ MATTERS, “One of my companions who grew up listening to Chet Baker, modeled his own playing and singing on Baker’s, and departed from jazz to become an immensely successful pop performer. He is saddened about what he has witnessed, as we all are. The cab ride to midtown is full of speculation about why a major artist finds it necessary to work with inadequate sidemen. The guesses range from managerial to psychological and make us even glummer. A disappointing evening.”
Following this gig on May 16, 1976, Chet made a number of successful appearances and recordings; however, he was often unpredictable about keeping dates, and made some ill-conceived recordings because he needed quick money.
Regarding the behavior that arose from Chet’s personal problems, Ramsey said, “I suppose you are aware that Chet Baker was not universally loved.” The Newsletter staff is certainly aware of that, but while we look at both the music and the man we realize that Chet’s recordings are his legacy, and many of them are awesome.
Ramsey continued to see Baker off and on. He says, “Everytime I ran into him, he’s ask if I’d do a book with him …Doing a book with Chet would have been a daunting proposition.” Ramsey, however, wrote the liner notes for five Baker albums; SHE WAS TOO GOOD TO ME, THE BEST THING FOR YOU, YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN, MULLIGAN & BAKER AT CARNEGIE HALL and BAKER & DESMOND TOGETHER. These notes are gems. On THE BEST THING FOR YOU, Ramsey writes, “Three of the pieces feature the late Paul Desmond, who had been an admirer of Baker since the early 50’s, when the quartets of their employers, Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan, were winning polls and setting standards, Desmond used to weave phrases from Baker’s recorded solos into his own work and enjoyed occasionally signing autographs, ‘Good Luck, Chet Baker.’”
SHE WAS TOO GOOD TO ME is the album in which , “You’ll hear Chet play both ways, cool and ‘very fly.’ The tone, if anything, is deeper and fuller,” Ramsey continues, “And you’ll surely ‘(Chet) understand what I play on my horn’ in the 16 bars of trumpet between the vocal sections of “She Was Too Good To Me.” It’s a classic melodic statement in a league with Bobby Hackett’s 1939 “Embraceable You,” Jack Sheldon’s bridge on “Then I’ll Be Tired of You” with the Hi-Los, and Chet’s own “My Funny Valentine.”
THE CRITIC & THE TRUMPET PLAYER
Chet’s importance as a player is becoming much clearer to people,” says Ramsey. “He was put down by many musicians. Things got in the way and he offended lots of his colleagues, but most of it was related to his problems.” Ramsey separates the art from the man. “When you look only at his music, it’s clear that he had one of the greatest lyrical conceptions of any jazz artist. Let me re-emphasize that – ANY.”
The theme running through Doug Ramsey’s work is the wish to make the world a better place. Whether through providing adult education to encourage more responsible news reporting or helping Americans understand our unique cultural heritage, Doug Ramsey emphasizes the good things of life. If our culture ever matures, the Chet Bakers of the world will not have to export our indigenous music to Europe in order to make a living.
Chet Baker & Paul Desmond
Although both were members of two of the top jazz quartets of the 1950’s, and both had a great amount of respect for each other, Chet Baker and Paul Desmond never appeared on a record together until 1974. Desmond, after leaving the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1967, did some recording for A&M Records, most of which were produced by Creed Taylor. In 1974 Taylor had left A&M to form his own record company, CTI, and he brought Chet Baker and Paul Desmond together on the album SHE WAS TOO GOOD TO ME, Chet’s first decent recording session since the loss of his teeth.
In 1975, Taylor again brought Chet and Paul together in the recording studio on a Jim Hall album for CTI, CONCIERTO. Then two years later in 1977, John Snyder brought the ailing Paul Desmond into the studio with Chet and arranger/conductor Don Sebesky for the album YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN.
All in all, the two musicians recorded just 7 tracks together; Tangerine and Autumn Leaves from the first album; So Nice To Come Home To and Concierto De Aranjuez from the second album; and You Can’t Go Home Again, How Deep Is The Ocean and the duet, Sentimental Over You, You’ve Changed, from the last album. Less than a month after the May 13, 1977 recording session Paul Desmond died from lung cancer.
The first album was released in 1974, the second in 1975 and the third in 1977. In 1989, after Chet Baker’s tragic death, a fourth album, THE BEST THING FOR YOU, was released by A&M with the two tracks recorded by Desmond and other tracks recorded by Chet with Kenny Barron, Ron Carter and Tony Williams.
Recently all seven selections were pulled together on one CD entitled TOGETHER Chet Baker & Paul Desmond, The Complete Studio Recordings. The CD has not seen wide distribution in the United States so many of you have probably not even been aware that it exists. One reason we are mentioning it here is that the liner notes were written by Doug Ramsey. So, taking Doug at his word (he told Betty that we could reprint any of his writings) we are reprinting those liner notes here.
CHET BAKER / PAUL DESMOND TOGETHER
Chet Baker played an important part in my first meeting with Paul Desmond. In the spring of 1955, the Dave Brubeck Quartet was taking college campuses by storm. It had made the cover of TIME Magazine and become a general phenomenon. Brubeck and his alto saxophonist, Desmond, were getting considerable attention from musicians and a few critics because of the daring of their high-wire act with polytonality, polyrhythms and counterpoint.
At the time I did not know a polyrhythm from a pastorale, but the chords struck by the Brubeck group resonated in me as they did with thousands, of other young people. So, when the quartet played in the cavernous room that doubled as cafeteria and concert hall in the student union building of the University of Washington, I was right down front.
The Whimsy of Desmond
Desmond was operating with particular whimsy that day. A manifestation of it was an outbreak of his celebrated response to photographers, which was to take pictures from the stand of them taking pictures of him. Another was the flurries of his musical quotes. One of the quotes was the ingenious use of a complicated section from Chet Baker’s solo on “Happy Little Sunbeam,” a recording made the previous year. At intermission, among a knot of admirers, I commented on the Baker passage.
Looking mildly startled, Desmond said, “You recognized that? Hmmm. See me afterward.”
When the concert was over, we met and he said grinning, “I finished the Chet solo for you.” Indeed he had, contriving to fit it into a place where, harmonically, no one could have expected it to go. “Took a bit of doing, actually, Desmond said.
During this period and for a few years after, Paul occasionally fulfilled autograph requests by signing, “Good luck, Chet Baker,” which must have left the recipients nonplussed. At any rate, Chet was on Desmond’s mind in both of their careers. When Paul made one of his rare recordings away from Brubeck in the fifties, the instrumentation was identical with that of the Gerry Mulligan quartet, with Don Elliot approximating Chet on some pieces. Baker sat in with the Brubeck group during at least on of its Southern California engagements and was a lifelong admirer of Desmond’s playing.
It wasn’t until 1974 that Chet and Paul were put together in a studio. In the meantime, they had become two of the most celebrated stylists among jazz soloists of their generation (Desmond was five years older than Baker). The Brubeck quartet had flourished, pioneering the use of unusual time signatures in jazz, making Paul’s “Take Five” a best-seller, touring the world, becoming household names and finally disbanding in 1976. Following the brevity of intensity of his work with Mulligan, Baker established himself as a leader and for the next three decades pursued a career as a star soloist. While being pursued by the demons of drug addiction.
The publicity given Chet’s troubles with narcotics officers of two continents deflected attention from his music. But the fact is he played like an angel even when his debilitation led him to conserve energy by playing fewer notes. They were the best available notes from any chord, and he assembled them into solos of a lyricism matched by few players of any era. Following Chet’s penultimate bad dope experience, in which San Francisco drug thugs knocked out his front teeth, he nearly gave up music.
Modern dentistry, recuperation in the remoteness of Idaho, the loving attention of his friends and sheer guts allowed him to rebuild his embouchure and a portion of his confidence. In the early 1970s he popped up in New York ready, with some temerity, to go back to work.
At the time, I was employed as chief correspondent for UPI Television News, mainly covering the United Nations and Watergate. Learning that Baker was going to re-emerge in a gig at the Half Note, I somehow convinced my editor that the world needed a story having nothing to do with peacekeeping or politics and did a feature on Chet’s preparations for the comeback date. When we had finished the filming and interviews, Chet gave me a hug, stood back with tears in his eyes and said, “Jeez, Doug, I don’t know if anybody’ll come.”
Play And They Will Come
People came to the Half Note, Stryker’s Pub or wherever he worked, and over the next year Baker’s playing and his assurance revived to the point where he felt ready to record. Creed Taylor of CTI set up the SHE WAS TOO GOOD TO ME date with Don Sebesky arranging. The sidemen included Desmond, Bassist Ron Carter and drummer Steve Gadd.
A few years earlier, when Taylor had first put him with hard-core players like Carter and pianist Herbie Hancock, Desmond told me he had gone into the studio with trepidation.
“I thought those guys would eat me alive, ”he said, “but Creed was right, as usual. It worked out fine.”
Taylor also used Chet and Paul on the Jim Hall CONCIERTO date with Roland Hanna, Carter and Gadd. Hall and Desmond were all but symbiotic, having recorded extensively together since 1959 in Paul’s quartet albums. The arranger was again Sebesky. Those two experiences set up the Sebesky-Baker-Desmond collaboration that was to be further developed when Creed’s young sidekick John Snyder began producing for the A&M label. John idolized Chet and Paul.
Desmond’s Final Date
Except for a guest solo on an Art Garfunkel album (Watermark), “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You You/You’ve Changed,” “How Deep Is The Ocean?” and “You Can’t Go Home Again” were Desmond’s last recordings.
“Paul was very ill, quite frail,” John recalls, “and we were lucky to get him in there. He was playing weakly, in a way, but with the acuity he always had. He didn’t expect any special treatment, didn’t even acknowledge his illness. It was like seeing the last fight of a great boxer.
“Chet had the ability, not unlike Stan Getz, to fit into any situation. He was always great. He never seemed to play below a certain level of genius. They were motivated by different lives. Chet sort of a street guy, Paul extremely sophisticated. But the results of their playing were very similar, and they were wonderful together.”
Within a few days of the last of these recordings, Paul was dead of lung cancer. Chet had another decade of ceaseless touring and recording before his fatal fall from a hotel window in Amsterdam.
They were wonderful together. Doug Ramsey.
Doug Ramsey has written about jazz for nearly forty years. His book, JAZZ MATTERS, Reflections on the Music and Some of It’s Makers (University of Arkansas Press), contains extensive chapters on Chet Baker and Paul Desmond.
Editor’s Note: One other track with Paul Desmond and Chet Baker has been issued on a recording. That album is the Philology release CHET BAKER, Newport Years Vol. 1, CD and LP. It was an appearance by the Brubeck/Desmond quartet at the Newport Jazz Festival in July of 1955 when Chet and Clifford Brown sat in with Brubeck and Desmond.
Also, the story we’ve heard about why Desmond signed Chet’s name is that Brubeck got mad at people that would call Paul “Mr. Brubeck” and instructed Paul to sign Chet’s name when they did.
Carole picked up a copy of a new magazine recently because of an article about Peter Jennings, the newscaster we like the best. The magazine, INSTYLE, also had an article about a party given for CNN’s Larry King to celebrate his 10th anniversary with CNN.
In attendance at the party given by King’s producer Wendy Walker Whitworth included her husband, CNN owner Ted Turner and his wife Jane Fonda and others
What makes this party interesting to us is the music that was provided: CDs by Latin guitarist Ottmar Liebert, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and …Chet Baker…!
Great taste, huh?
Pacific Jazz CDP72438 3167623 Chet Baker (v,tp); David Wheat (g); Ross Savakus (b) TT=38’-18 New York City, NY 5 Dec 1957 The Night We Called It A Day, Little Girl Blue, Embraceable You, They All Laughed, There’s A Lull In My Life, What Is There To say, While My Lady Sleeps, Forgetful, How Long Has This Been Going On, Come Rain Come Shine, On Green Dolphin Street, Little Girl Blue, Trav’lin’ Light.
In December of 1957 Chet Baker made his last recordings for the Pacific Jazz label. In four different sessions over forty tracks were laid down with four different groups.
Two of these sessions were issued on the Pacific Jazz label: The REUNION album and theANNIE ROSS/GERRY MULLIGAN Quartet album. Of the third session, an octet, only four sides were recorded with just one being issued on the Playboy label. Then all four were issued in the Pacific Jazz box set, CHET BAKER, The Pacific Jazz Years.
At the fourth session, a trio, 13 tracks were recorded. Only one,
TRAV’LIN’ LIGHT, was issued – until now. The tunes were arranged by Bob Zieff who also arranged the octet date and wrote the tunes as well as the ones Chet recorded on the Barclay album with Dick Twardzik in 1955.
Most of these tunes have not become associated with Chet over the years. The first time I played the CD I though to myself that it should be sub-titled “Chet Baker Sings and Plays”. The next time I looked at the case I saw that it was indeed sub-titled “Chet Baker Sings and Plays.”
The instrumentation (trumpet, guitar, and base) was used by Chet many times, most notably with Doug Raney and Philip Catherine. Here the guitar and bass are minor players, only providing background. No ten or fifteen minute tracks: the shortest is just 2:06 and the longest 4:33. What we do have, though, is early Chet Vocals. The voice is stronger, more assured. The tunes are old standards handled with ease by the master.
EMBRACEABLE YOU will not go down in history as Chet’s best album nor is it his worst album. As noted earlier, this album for Pacific Jazz was his last and the last of an era. Jazz as Chet knew it was changing. The sixties for Chet were a last gasp – from the Prestige releases to the Mariachi Brass – from the sublime to the ridiculous.
There is no telling where Chet would have ended up had he not lost his teeth. After he came back in the early 70s, his playing was just not the same. As one critic wrote, it was more burnished. Nomore that clear bell-like sound. And no more vocal albums until CHET BAKER SINGS AGAIN in the mid 80s.
It took 38 years for these tracks to be published. They are certainly a welcome addition to Chet’s discography.
Not long ago we printed an interview that Betty did with Frank Strazzeri. The September issue of Cadence Magazine has just come out with an interview with Frank. In this interview Frank is a little more outspoken than he was in Betty’s interview, so with Cadence’s permission we are reprinting that part of their interview that deals with Chet Baker.
CAD: You had a long relationship with Chet Baker yet you did few recordings with him.
FS: Because he went out of the country. I played a long time with him; I saw him punch his chicks out, and all kinds of things. Then we had a parting of the ways. I first met him in Las Vegas; he came to my door in Las Vegas because he thought I was the connection in town for dope. Then in L. A. he called me to work. We played this one job and he burned me, didn’t pay me. Anyway someone in the group called the Union, told them about it, he (Chet Baker) thought it was me. And he called me on the phone and says, “You dirty fink.” This was in the early ‘60’s. He burns me out of $300 plus he’s calling me a fink. I says, “Hey you lousy bastard, get out of my life and don’t ever call me again. Get lost.” He got lost for 13 years. All of a sudden one day I get a call from New York, he’s going to do this movie (Let’s Get Lost). But before this he was featured in a club in L. A. in the late ‘70’s with Don Menza, Nick Cerroli, and Joe DiBartello. I had nothing to do with it, I just went to play the gig. And none of these guys knew our history, that we played for a long time together and had a separating of the ways. So he came in and we’re in an office in the back. And we hadn’t seen each other and he was really disturbed when he saw me. It was just embarrassing that’s all. But when we went to play he offered me the respect I thought was really wonderful because we got on the bandstand, not knowing what he’s going to do. Somebody said, “Chet let’s play this,” and he just turned to me and said, “Frank, what do we play?” He did that the entire job. That was really nice. He said, “Whatever Frank wants to do we can do.” That’s the way the job went. So Six months later New York calls me and says he don’t do this movie (Let’s Get Lost) unless you can play piano. He paid me back, gave me the best job I ever had in my life. That’s a guy with soul, man. He paid me back. And when he died I went to his funeral.
CAD: Were you surprised when he died?
FS: Not really, they killed him. They strangled him, he burned people for dope. He went back to Amsterdam and was living in the hotel, a haven for junkies. He burned someone for bread and they kicked the door down, went in, fought with him, strangled him and threw him out the window to make it look like he committee suicide. The cops didn’t give a s—t, he’s just another junkie.
They asked me to talk over his grave out there at the cemetery in L. A., by the airport. They laid him next to his father. And I’m looking at the coffin and I’m saying, “What the hell happened man?” I was so disgusted, “What did you do? You fool man, you burned another cat for bread. They finally killed you.” They first knocked his teeth out and then they killed him.
CAD: When I talked with him, and particularly in regard to the San Francisco incident where he was beat up, he said things to me in a manner which, in retrospect, suggested to me that he may have been rather racist. I may have misread it but did you have any view of this?
FS: …I don’t think so. I don’t think Chet even … he may have felt that just being a White guy and being a star and being harassed a lot because he was a White star. People saying you’re not Miles Davis, You’ll never be a Freddie Hubbard or something. I’m trying to think … he may have been frustrated … I do think he got a lot of harassment where I haven’t. I’ll tell you right now I get along better with Black cats way better than White guys. I’m talking about older cats, the young cats today look at me like I’m an idiot.
A lot of guys told him, “You ain’t that great.” But I’ll tell you right now he was, he was that great. And great players never denounced him. The only thing he didn’t do was practice, that’s the only reason he wasn’t super great. He was the biggest goof there ever was. He was a wildman, he left a chick outside of San Francisco in a hotel room. He smashed the TV through the window ‘cause he was having a fight with her. He walked from there to the San Francisco airport with thongs, a trumpet, and T-shirt and Levi’s. Took the plane and met me. Walked all night long. That’s how he came to L.A. to start the movie. You talk about a gypsy. But there’s a part about him I love. He’s be so stoned on a gig he’s end up playing the piano and I’d play the horn. He’d say, “Frank I can’t play man, play your horn Frank. (laughter) People come in and says, geez, that doesn’t look like Chet Baker. And they thought I was good just because they thought I was Chet Baker.
FS: … the only people that ever meant anything to me there (L.A.) were the jazz cats. Pepper, Chet, Stan Getz. Kai Winding.
CD: Did you know Getz well?
FS: Yeah, he’d come to my house, spend two or three days together, that crazy bastard, he played all my tunes. Came over to my house about five years ago ‘ cause he wanted my songs.
CAD: He was regarded as one of the nastier people.
GS: Oooh, was he nasty. His patience was short. You know what he did, he came to a house and rehearsed a group. I got him John Patitucci (bass) and John Dentz (drums) to go to Europe with him. I wasn’t part of it, they just came to my house and I played with them; he was going with Victor Feldman. But he asked me to get a bass and drums. They came over to play, he says, “Okay you guys are hired.” He never hired them, left town with two other guys, made me look like an idiot.
He was the most confident cat I ever met in my life. He was a star in his mind, he and Chet Baker confidant as you could get. In fact, they both hated each other. I worked with Stan Getz. Stan Getz told me don’t ever mention his (Chet Baker) name to me again. I work with Chet Baker, Chet Baker says, “Don’t ever mention his (Stan Getz) name to me again.” (Laughter) I played a gig with them, they were mad at each other over star billing. They played the gig and when the people applauded Chet Baker said, “The people like me better than him.” And he (Stan Getz) got p----d off and told the promoter, “Don’t ever book me again with this guy.” (Chet Baker).
CAD: A funny business.
FS: It’s hard to talk about all of it. I start to thinking about it and all my old friends are dead. Once I knew what I was doing in music my whole life started.
(Copyright Cadence Magazine Ltd. 1995, Vol. 21, No 9)