Vol 5 No.3
A Newsletter Dedicated To Chet Baker And His Music
A CONVERSATION WITH BILL PERKINS October 14 and December 12, 1994
We first spoke with Bill Perkins on June 30, 1991 and that interview appears in Volume 1, Issue 4 of CHET’S CHOICE. In October of 1994 Bill sent a letter describing his encounters with Chet.”
“I first met Chet Baker in 1948 or 1949. I was attending the University of California at Santa Barbara. I was playing in the house band at a local club called LOUISE’S, that held jam sessions on Sundays. This very young looking kid walked up to the bandstand carrying a trumpet and a French horn. We sort of snickered. He took out a pivot-tooth, sat it on the piano, and started playing. We no longer snickered. Instead we cried, ‘What a player!’
“I realize now, as I look back, that I owe Chet a special debt. When I moved to Los Angeles in late 1949, Chet saw to it that I was allowed to play around town at the various jam sessions. I had absolutely no confidence or belief in myself at the time, but he heard something in my playing. Now it is clear to me that his ‘vote of confidence’ helped me to persevere in my music.
“After we left Los Angeles, we never saw each other again, to my knowledge, until a chance meeting in La Vign, France, at a jazz festival. He walked up to me and threw his arms around me. It was as if we had never been apart all those years. That was Chet.”
PERK IS STILL GOING STRONG
After 20 years, Bill retired from the TONIGHT show when Johnny Carson left, and he has slowed down not at all. A native Californian, Bill is still active and playing in the Los Angeles area when he is not on tour. After the holidays he flys to Germany and then to Euro Disney. He isn’t crazy about traveling, but he loves playing the music. “There are thousands of musicians in L. A. and bookings are difficult. I try to play club dates at least two times a month, but you really have to travel. I’ll be back the first week in February.”
PLAYING AT REDONDO BEACH
Bill says, “Ken Poston, station KLON, produced the festival and did a great job. He is a dedicated jazz fan, well versed in the history of jazz, who teaches a course in jazz studies at UCLA.
“In West Coast Jazz, Shorty Rogers became the center of it, so there was lots of interest in him. You know he died recently. Of course, Dexter Gordon (ts) and Charlie Mingus (b) are also gone, but they were part of the L. A. jazz scene. Lots of guys came back. Harold Land (ts) was there and played, as did Jack Sheldon (t), Bud Shank (as, bs, fl), Dave Brubeck (p), and Gerry Mulligan (bs). Jack Montrose (ts), who is in Las Vegas now, came back and played. Dave Pell (ts), Teddy Edwards (ts) and Buddy Collette (s,f,c) were also there. Pete Rugolo conducted the CITY OF GLASS with Stan Kenton’s orchestra.
“Bill Holman gave a big band concert. All the music and panels were recorded. I have a cassette of Bill Holman’s big band and the sound is quite good; it was all live, and it is exceedingly difficult to get a good recording with a big band. There were people from all over the country, England and France. About 2000 people were in the ballroom for Bill Holman’s concert.
“Herb Geller was in from Germany and he sounded wonderful. His jazz opera was performed and it will be recorded soon. He will continue to live in Munich, but now that he has retired from the Radio Orchestra Hanover he will travel. Howard Rumsey sort of re-created the Lighthouse All Stars days. It was really all about jazz. You know the Monterey and Playboy Festivals are only about 25% jazz.
“Bobby Troup showed tapes of the ‘Stars of Jazz’ program. The cinematography was excellent, a real theatrical presentation. It was like jazz MTV. There were great shots of Russ Freeman (p) and others.”
Bill was too modest to volunteer, but when asked, he confirmed that he also appeared in the films.
“In addition to the concerts, there were lots of panels. I was on one, but I wasn’t there much because I was playing. I played with Bud’s (Shank) sextet, and I played in six different bands in one day – everything from soprano to baritone. On Saturday, I fell down and squashed my horn when I jumped off the bandstand to go change into a dark suit after playing with Jack Montrose.” As we voiced concern, Bill said, “I wasn’t hurt, and I have already gotten my horn fixed.
“My record, FRAME OF MIND, is out on interplay with Frank Strazerri (p), Tom Warrington (b), Billy Berg (d), and Clay Jenkins (t). I think Chetty would have liked him – he leaves lots of spaces and is very lyrical.”
Don Heckman of the LOS ANGELES TIMES, describes Perkins as ‘a survivor of ‘50’s West Coast Jazz’ whose playing has remained persistently forward-looking over the years, and he gives the new CD three stars. Frank Strazzeri, who played with Chet in the movie LET’S GET LOST, as well as many other gigs is on keyboards. Our interview with Strazzeri appeared in Vol III, No 4 of the newsletter.
“I also did a record with Bud Shank which will be out in February on the Candid label.” (Bud was our very first interview for CHET’S CHOICE, Vol II, No 2). Conte Candoli (t), Jack Nimitz (bs), John Clayton (b), Sherman Ferguson (d), Bill Perkins (ts, ss) and Shank (as). Bill plays the tenor and baritone saxes, bass clarinet and flute on the CD QUIETLY THERE, which we were lucky to find at a local record store. Another Chet Baker alumnus, Larry Bunker is on drums. (Riverside/OJCCD, 1776-2 recorded in November 1966). There is one bonus track, THE SHADOW OF YOUR SMILE, and we give QUIETLY THERE four stars.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
The Redondo Beach Festival, celebrating 40 years of West Coast Jazz, was a reunion for the artists, and a musical feast for the fans. With the publication of the book WEST COAST JAZZ, in 1992, Ted Gioia – scholar, critic, and jazz pianist – signaled the critical reassessment of the Cool School. Fans loved the music from its inception; the critics (some old and some young) are now validating the fans’ judgement.
Chet would have loved the Festival; by all accounts he was there in spirit.
NOTE: 4/9/95 We have just learned that Bill had a lung operation about a month and a half ago. He is recuperating and has already begun to play again. If you would like to send him a note, his address is : 3872 Cody Road Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
Ed Note: Perk’s first recording with Chetty did not actually happen. At Richard Bock’s behest he over-dubbed Chet’s vocals on at least four of the Pacific Jazz vocal recordings with Russ Freeman and the quartet. Those four tracks: Silver Lining, But Not For Me, Time After Time and My Funny Valentine have just been issued on CD on the new release, CHET BAKER YOUNG CHET. See the review in this issue. Bill first gained critical recognition when he recorded GRAND ENCOUNTER: 2 East 3 West for Pacific Jazz in 1956 with John Lewis, Percy Heath, Chico Hamilton and Jim Hall. Whitney Balliett who wrote the liner notes for the album says: “ Bill Perkins, who acts as a kind of co-leader here was born in 1924 in San Francisco. He holds a B. A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a degree in Electrical Engineering from Cal. Tech. Although he has played with both Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, he has not been a full time professional jazz musician (for) much over five years. His style, at present, is an intelligent offshoot of the sunny dry bones school of Lester Young and Stan Getz. It is a flowing, melodic approach that employs few notes, a sense of languor, and a big, gentle tone . . . His solos here on the blues, on EASY LIVING and LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, are excellent lyrical tenor saxophone, and represent his best recorded work to date.” Copyright 1957 & 1983 by Liberty Records, a division of Capitol Records.
We would like to note that of late, Perkins’ style has evolved, much as Bud Shank’s, to a more aggressive approach and vibrant sound. JOURNEY TO THE EAST, a 1984 recording for Contemporary, and SERIOUS SWINGERS, with Bud Shank also on Contemporary in 1986, reveal the new Perkins in excellent form. He also was on the last two Lighthouse All Stars CDs on the Candid label. It is appropriate that Bill Perkins, one of the last of the original West Coast Jazz musicians, is one of the last interviews in CHET’S CHOICE.
CHET AND SILENCE
By Michel Graillier
(Jazz Magazine, No. 395, P. 39)
Two years ago: in the spring of 1988, trumpeter Chet Baker suffered a fatal fall from a window of an Amsterdam hotel. The pianist, the companion of his last ten years remembers . . .
The ten years I spent with Chet have been decisive ones for me. I have undergone an influence which I can never shake off - - nor do I have any intention of doing so. There were things he showed me that I had always been conscious of and that must continue - - in particular, the weight of tradition. Chet had a respect for values like sincerity and depth without which my music would cease to exist.
Chet understood the importance of silence. Music is not supposed to fill up the “gaps” of silence: silence is the raw material of the musician. I was always vaguely aware of it, but when I came to know Chet it all got clearer. In the music I make, silence has become ever more important to me. I remember certain concerts in Japan where there would be a good ten thousand people waiting for Chet to start playing. Chet would approach the microphone and let four bars go by, maybe eight bars . . . and at the moment he attacked, the note would burst out at full throttle, and one experienced a sort of relief. He had found a response to the anxious wait on the part of the audience because he had rendered musically meaningful that silence that reigned before he started his solo.
People have often accused Chet of being slow to start, but on the contrary I believe those people were themselves slow in their heads. Chet couldn’t start playing if he didn’t feel that a certain degree of receptivity or attention had been reached in the room. In Japan, where people are more disciplined than here (in France), that rarely took more than five minutes, but in France or the United States, he could wait over half an hour for the noise to die down in the hall and a relaxed atmosphere to establish itself. In clubs, for example, there are times when people make a din and simply ignore what’s going on on stage. Chet wouldn’t tolerate this. He always used to say to me: “The nastier people are the more one must reduce the volume.” If he felt the attention level was just not enough, bang in the middle of a piece, he would reduce the level of sound almost to nothing, a near silence, so as to cause the noise to cease. It was the same kind of thing where his fellow musicians were concerned. He demanded of you a sort of sonic asceticism. It’s easy for a pianist to be showy - - the instrument has a big range, and with a good technique, you can attain a speed of playing superior to most other instruments. I had a tendency to succumb to a sort of pianistic brio. I remember one time in a concert, I shot off into a wildly virtuosic groove, and Chet grabbed the microphone and said to me, in public: “Hey, Michel, what are you trying to prove?” That’s the kind of lesson that one doesn’t forget!
People discount the second half of Chet Baker’s life, and yet in my opinion that was when he was at his most creative in the sense that he had become a free man in relation to the system. Before, he had been the prisoner of that image of the prodigious musician and producers made him do anything they wanted; whereas in his last years he was right outside the establishment. After losing his teeth, he found himself overnight a petrol-pump attendant. That caused him to reflect on the futility of the stardom that was undermining his music. He came back to music in the guise of a kind of latter-day troubadour, travelling from place to place, as the fancy took him, staying as long as he felt like it, only playing what he felt like playing - - nobody would be able to make him do anything he wasn’t interested in. During this time, he lived for his music alone. He had no home base; always on the road, he lived in hotels and carried all his belongings with him.
He had the capacity to play in two or three places on the same night. Since his death, there’s been a lot of talk about the fragility of Chet Baker. It’s all nonsense. On the contrary, he was a force of nature. I’ve seen him stripped to the waist, and he had the physique of an athlete. What’s more, there was nothing feeble about his trumpet playing. I just don’t know where the critics get this stuff about thinness and fragile sound . . . You only have to listen to the recordings. The sound is always full, clear, powerful. The impression of fragility derives from the face that he rejected effects, the spectacular, effects that rely on exaggerated dynamics. He considered these to be facile, easy devices for a trumpeter. In any case, you only have to count up the concerts or the recordings that Chet made right to the end of his life to appreciate his physical resilience. He possessed a tremendous physical strength that he put at the service of an insatiable desire to play.
The way people tell about this death is symptomatic: some people have tried to make out that he committed suicide, or I don’t know what, whereas Chet had in fact attained a kind of serenity. That is quite the opposite of somebody at the end of their tether. I know for a fact that he had lots of plans. The night he died, he should have played with Archie Shepp. When he got to this hotel in Amsterdam, he was maybe a bit the worse for wear, he was almost certainly wearing his old jeans, or clothes that didn’t go with the place where he was, and the people there were afraid he might leave without paying, so they demanded payment before he went off to play, and he couldn’t stand this kind of suspicion. He may have been “marginal” in a sense, but he was lordly too, a kind of aristocrat in his way, very touchy when it came to the question of respect. There was a violent argument with the management and they threw him out with his luggage. Chet was basically a sweet-natured man, but he was also capable of towering rages when he thought he was being held in contempt. Once out on the pavement, he realized he had left his trumpet in his room. Out of pride, he didn’t want to ask permission to go and fetch it. He preferred to climb the façade of the building, and his bedroom was on the third floor! When he got to the second, he either slipped or his heart gave out and he fell. A Dutch police report confirms this version of events, but the hotel did everything it could to hush the thing up. This is why the media floated the suicide hypothesis. I’m not saying that it was a particularly intelligent way to go, but it chimes perfectly with Chet’s character: he was a tearaway, he was from Oklahoma and he had retained the cowboy mentality . . . In any case, he was definitely no loser, nor was he a washed-up individual. The trouble is that when it comes to jazz, people prefer the morbid version of events.
Interview conducted by Christian Bethune.
CHET BAKER, A CAREER RETROSPECTIVE
When I decided to attempt a career retrospective of Chet Baker for this last year of CHET’S CHOICE, I began going over his myriad recordings in my head and realized the enormity of this task. It gradually became clear that what I should do was to cover what I considered the main areas of his 37 year recording career. I feel that there are six main areas that should be covered: three in his early career and three in his later career. I am only going to talk about CDs from the compact disc listing accompanying this article.
The first era is, of course, the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, more widely known as the ‘piano-less’ quartet. Although this was really Gerry Mulligan’s band, Chet honed his musical skills and began receiving the notoriety and adulation that would follow him for the rest of his life.
The Mulligan quartet and Tentet went the direction that Mulligan chose but Chet influenced that direction. Certainly no other trumpet player (or any other musician for that matter) ever achieved the rapport with Jeru that Chet did. Gerry never stopped remarking on that ability that Chet had that melded so well with the baritone saxman. It was achieved so very rarely in jazz – Brubeck and Desmond, John Lewis and Milt Jackson, Gillespie and Parker – a spark that ignited a flame that still burns. Listen to some of those Mulligan Quartet tracks (and there really are so very few) and you’ll not see their like in any other Mulligan group.
All of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet and Tentet recordings are well worth your listening, and all except the Getz sessions are on Mosaic and Pacific Jazz.
The second and most important era for Chet was the Russ Freeman years. The tunes that Russ wrote and the taking on the management of the Quartet gave Chet the tunes to play and record and the freedom from financial worry to concentrate on his music. Chet blossomed during that period, musically and publically. He put his stamp on the genre during those years and his style of playing during that time shows me that his main influence was not Miles Davis, but (like Miles) was Dizzy Gillespie. His audience was extended tremendously by his touring the United States. The majority of the studio and live recordings with Russ Freeman are on the Mosaic and Pacific Jazz sets but there is an excellent session on the Uptown label – BOSTON 54.
During the last few months of the Freeman years, Chet began working with a quintet featuring the tenor saxophonist Phil Urso. Phil was a stabilizing influence on Chet musically. The quintet really honed in on the music and the second horn gave Chet more space to blossom. It is really unfortunate that this group was recorded only on three albums – CHET BAKER AND CREW and YOUNG CHET (see review in this issue) and one live session in 1964 released on Carol Baker’s label CCB – LIVE AT PUEBLO, COLORADO.
Urso is on the BABY BREEZE album and also THE MOST IMPORTANT JAZZ ALBUM OF 1964/65 (God, what a title) which has not been released on CD as yet. Baker’s friendship with Phil Urso continued throughout the rest of his life and a tape of a live session Chet played with Urso’s quartet in 1985 shows the magic was still there 20 years later.
There are highlights during this first career: the European years with Jean-Louis Chautemps, the Prestige sessions with George Coleman (only one album on CD), and mis-60’s sessions with Bobby Jasper, but none were as influential on Chet and his public as the Phil Urso sessions. Many critics feel Chet’s Riverside recordings were some of his best, the CHET album especially, and the two Jazzland albums are good, but they are not Chet Baker. Chet excelled before a live audience in my opinion, needing that input back from them, and these studio sessions are someone else’s influence – Chet is only playing the music others provided for him. There is no room to stretch out and really expand on the music like he could do in a live situation. In his later years, Chet would play for 10 or 15 even 20 minutes on one tune. He would play until he felt he’d said what he wanted to – not tied into a set recording period as the studio session must be.
There were very few live sessions released on record (or CD) from the 50’s and 60’s. Norman Granz was issuing some of the Jazz at the Philharmonic Concerts but mostly the quality of recording and the acoustics of live sessions just were not up to being released on records. The BOSTON 54 session was recorded to be played on the air and the Pueblo session was recorded by the drummer and neither remastered and issued on CD until the 80’s and 90’s. The Ann Arbor session was recorded with release in mind and sold to Richard Bock at Pacific Jazz. The LIVE IN EUROPE 2 CD set from 1956 is a good example of Chet’s playing in Europe, recorded live in concert in Florence.
Three CDs from the early 60’s plainly show the height of Chet’s early career- his playing confident, masterful and swinging. The 1962 CHET IS BACK, THE 1963 Brussels 1964 and the 1965 BABY BREEZE are all excellent examples of Chet’s wonderful laying and singing.
From 1966 until November of 1973, except for some Bud Shank and Mariachi Brass recordings (none of which have been released on CD), no noteworthy releases were forthcoming.
Then, in 1973, Chet Baker was back on the scene. A couple of live sessions with Lee Konitz in early 1974 and three issues from CTI (one live and two studio) brought Chet back into the public eye, but those were not Chet’s groups. Again, they were sessions set up by others. In real life, Chet was working in Europe with Jacques Pelzer and Harold Danko, building an audience and working his own groups. Even the 1977 session for A&M was not really Chet. In fact we don’t hear the Chet Baker group until the February 1977 session for Artist House with Harold Danko and Gregory Herbert, ONCE UPON A SUMMERTIME.
But in 1978, Chet formed a band with Phil Markowitz, Scott Lee and Jeff Brillinger. This was Chet’s first strong group of his second career. They toured the United States and Canada (see the RISING SUN COLLECTION review in this issue) and then went to Europe. In November and December this group was heard on four excellent CDs, two live sessions (LIVE IN CHATEAUVALLON and LIVE AT NICK’S) and two studio sessions (BROKEN WING and TWO A DAY.)
In early 1979, Chet was back working with various groups, not really settling on a permanent band. In 1976 Chet first worked with a young French pianist, Michel Grallier, (see interview in this issue) who he continued to work with for the next ten years, producing seven great CDs – MR B (a studio session) in 1983 and the 2 CD set A TRUMPET FOR THE SKY (a live session), two studio sessions in 1985 (CANDY and CET BAKER SINGS AGAIN) and another 2 CD live set (LIVE FROM THE MOONLIGHT). During this time Chet was also working with Nicolo Stillo, Doug Raney, Wolfgang Lackerschmid, Philip Catherine and Jacques Pelzer among others.
In 1980 and 1981 Chet was recorded in three different contexts by Circle Records – a quartet with Dennis Luxion, a quartet/quintet with the German guitarist Karl Ratzer and a quintet with Jon Eardly and Bob Mover. These three live sessions produced 10 LPs but only seven tracks have been issued on CDs a terrible waste of excellent Chet Baker material.
In 1986 and 1987 Chet again worked with Harold Danko and in two different sessions produced four really great CDs and one video. The’86 session was in the studio for Timeless Records and produced a good mix of vocals and instrumentals – COOL CAT and AS TIME GOES BY. The 1987 releases were from a sterling live session in Tokyo – MEMORIES and FOUR released on Paddlewheel. The video, MY FUNNY VALENTINE, also came from this live set.
Assuredly there are standouts in this period also. Certainly the numbers with Paul Desmond, the album PEACE with David Friedman, the Carnegie Hall Concert, the Steeplechase sessions with Doug Raney, the Marshmallow sets with Duke Jordan, the Warne Marsh album for CrissCross, the albums with Philip Catherine, Enrico Pieranunzi and the Enja big band sets but to me the three main bands epitomized Chet’s second career.
The Gerry Mulligan Quartet and Tentet, the quartet with Russ Freeman, the quintet with Phil Urso and the quartets with Phil Markowitz, Michel Graillier and Harold Danko are the ones hat really sotlight Chet Baker’s career. To me the CDs produced by these groups are the crème de la crème and if you have some or all of them, you will never tire of listening because these are Chet Baker. I have over 180 CDs and at least that many LPs with Chet Baker on them but the ones with these six groups are the ones I find myself playing over and over again.
The music has never died.