CHET BAKER

9 January 2010

[Picture of a Chet Baker Record cover]What a voice!  I was in the mood for some Gregory Hoskins (after I spotted a comment here), and this put me in mind of the great Chet Baker.

He was originally famed for playing Jazz Trumpet — with some of the all time greats too.  Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan in particular.

In 1953, he released an album in which he sang, sparkily named “Chet Baker Sings” — and I got a hold of it in 1979 in one of those deals where you buy a bunch of LPs at a market.  This record has been part of me ever since.

In case you don’t know, this guy was from the golden age of Jazz — the post war cool era.

Although Chet used heroin for 30 years, he nearly made it to 60. He dozed off while sitting on a window-ledge on his 2nd storey Amsterdam hotel room one night in May 1988. He fell to his accidental death. I remember being very sad (I think I was still trying to come to terms with Jaco Pastorius’s murder 9 months before).  Sad times for jazz lovers.

There is a special connection here in that, like Jaco, Chet got in a late night brawl and took a severe beating.  But unlike Jaco, Chet didn’t die from the assault — but the beating made a mess of his lips and broke his teeth. This was in San Francisco in the mid 1960s — at the height of his looks and career. For a famous trumpet-player, that was about the worst possible outcome, ruining his embouchure — and so Chet had to wear dentures and stop playing the trumpet — he switched to flugelhorn and easy-listening music — until he developed a new embouchure over a few years.

That’s all pretty sickening, but I am glad to state that with his new embouchure, Chet returned to straight-ahead jazz trumpet — which by then was more popular in Europe than the USA, so Chet moved to Europe and entered his most prolific creative and recording period from the late 1970s until his death. Chet had even been working with Elvis Costello and together they had a top 40 hit with “Shipbuilding”!

[embedded video from YouTube.com]

Yeah, the guy was co-ool — a real cultural icon from an era filled with cultural icons!

Aw, man, what a song “Almost Blue” is, so on-the-money, not a wasted word from Elvis Costello — and not a wasted note from Chet and the gang. Total art. He holds back the singing until about half-way — what genius!

[embedded video from YouTube.com “Almost Blue”]

Almost blue
Almost doing things we used to do
There’s a girl here and she’s almost you
Almost  all the things that you promised with your eyes I see in hers too
Now your eyes are red from crying
Almost blue
Flirting with this disaster became me
It named me as the fool who only aimed to be
Almost blue
Almost touching it will almost do
There’s a part of me that’s always true… always

Almost  all the things that you promised with your eyes I see in hers too
Now your eyes are red from crying
Almost blue

Almost you
Almost me
Almost blue

I read a lot of rot about guys like Chet Baker.  He was no good-looking model to start with. The thing is that young guys get old.  Only cultural icons like Jimmy Dean and Jaco Pastorius don’t get old — the ones that died young. I have recoiled many times when I have seen what age has done to my heroes and others from a previous era — Jeez, Ry Cooder was a shock, as was James Taylor, Hue and Cry and Adrian Belew. This is mainly because they were out of the limelight for a while — others, like the Rolling Stones or Status Quo don’t seem so bad — but they actually are! You soon get used to them being old, and it will come to Brad Pitt and all the rest of the icons of today.

I do not think Chet was “ravaged by heroin”; he lived most of his life using heroin, and I have seen other 59 year olds look the same or worse simply from smoking cigarettes or being outdoors in the sun and weather a lot.

Chet Baker had his own style of singing and playing, and that is a good thing.  I am fed up hearing criticisms about his playing and singing from folks who can do neither themselves.

He was the whole package of cool when he was a young blade, doing “Funny Valentine”, “The Thrill is Gone”,  “I Fall in Love Too Easily”, and the marvellous, “Let’s get Lost”. When he got older, he was the elder statesman and the consummate musician. He was doing it for the music and the die-hard fans.  He could have chosen to do a million other things, but he stuck to his guns in a land far from his native land.

Personally I do not think we would have the likes of Gregory Hoskins or Jeff Buckley without Chet Baker’s voice — and that lives forever. Yes sir!

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4 Responses to “CHET BAKER”

  1. Pedant Says:

    Chet sings it differently. Elvis Costello wrote:
    “…Almost all the things that your eyes once promised I see in hers too…”
    and
    “…There’s a part of me that’s always true…always
    Not all good things come to an end now it is only a chosen few
    I’ve seen such an unhappy couple…”

  2. Josh Says:

    Chet looked like a boxer IMHO ;-)


  3. […] was a cold moroseness prevalent.  I started to listen to Owen and Grizzly Bear, but also to old Chet Baker […]


  4. […] original music from Scotty Moorehead (his “real” name).  I think there’s a Chet Baker legacy for the quieter ballads, but in the rock music side of things, Buckley is out there on his […]


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