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Chesney Henry Baker, Jr. , better known as Chet Baker (Yale, December 23, 1929 – Amsterdam, May 13, 1988) was a trumpeter, singer and American jazz musician. Exponent of the cool style (the west coast jazz of the fifties).
Chet Baker was born in Yale, Oklahoma. His father, Chesney Henry Baker, Sr., was a guitarist and his mother worked in a perfumery. In 1940 they moved from Yale to Glendale (state of California). As a child, Baker sang in amateur contests and in the choir of the church. In his adolescence, the father bought him a trombone, which he would later replace with a trumpet, since this one was too big for the boy. His first musical apprenticeship took place at the Glendale Institute, although his musical training ended up being purely intuitive. In 1946, aged 16, he left school and joined the army. He was sent to Berlin, where he played in the 298th Army Band. After his return, in 1948, he enrolled in El Camino College (in Los Angeles), where he studied theory and harmony while playing in jazz clubs; He abandoned his studies in the second year. He enlisted again in the army in 1950 and became a member of the Sixth Army Band in El Presidio (in San Francisco). He continued to perform in the clubs of the city and finally got for the second and final time his release from the army to become a professional jazz musician. His style would be influenced in the future by the sound of Miles Davis.
Initially, Baker played in the band of Vido Musso and then with Stan Getz. (Baker’s first recording is an interpretation of “Out of nowhere” that appears in a jam session taken on March 24, 1952). His success came quickly when in the spring of 1952 he was chosen to play with Charlie Parker, debuting at the Tiffany Club in Los Angeles on May 29, 1952. That same summer, he began playing in Gerry Mulligan’s quartet, a group composed only saxophone baritone, trumpet, bass and drums, without piano, which attracted attention during his performances at the nightclub Haig, getting recordings for the newly created label Pacific Jazz Records (later known as World Pacific Records). The first LP was Gerry Mulligan Quartet, which included Baker’s famous interpretation of “My funny Valentine.”
The Gerry Mulligan Quartet lasted barely a year: in June 1953 its leader entered the prison for drugs. Baker formed his own quartet, which initially had Russ Freeman on piano, Red Mitchell on bass and Bobby White on drums; he made his first recording as a leader for Pacific Jazz on July 24, 1953. In 1954, Pacific Jazz performed Chet Baker Sings, an album that increased his popularity and that would keep him singing for the rest of his career. His popularity made him work on a film, Hell’s Horizon, from 1955, but he declined a contract with studios to carry out a European tour from September 1955 to April 1956. Upon his return to the United States he formed a quintet with the saxophonist Phil Urso and the pianist Bobby Timmons. Contrary to his reputation as a relaxed interpreter, Baker played with this group in the bebop style, which would record the album Chet Baker & amp; Crew for Pacific Jazz in July 1956.
He toured the United States in February 1957 with the Birdland All-Stars. He returned to Europe in 1959, specifically to Italy, and it was in these years where he met the young musician Christian Vander, to whom he would give his first battery. Meanwhile, Hollywood made a fictionalized biography of Baker in 1960, All the fine young cannibals.
Baker had become addicted to heroin in the fifties and had been imprisoned several times for short periods. However, it was not until the sixties that his addiction began to interfere with his musical career. He was arrested in Italy in the summer of 1960 and spent almost a year and a half behind bars. He celebrated his return recording in 1962 Chet Is Back! for the RCA. At the end of the year, however, he was arrested in West Germany and expelled to Switzerland, then to France and, finally, to the United Kingdom. But he was deported back to France because of another problem with drugs in 1963. He lived in Paris and throughout the following year he acted in France and Spain, but after being arrested once again in West Germany in 1964, he was deported to the United States. United. He played in New York and Los Angeles in the mid-sixties, temporarily changing the trumpet for the flugelhorn. In the summer of 1966 he suffered a severe beating in San Francisco related to his drug addiction. As a result of it, he suffered some damage to his teeth that led him to modify his embouchure on the trumpet. Towards the end of the sixties, he recorded and acted only occasionally; at the beginning of the seventies, he retired completely.
Taking back some control over his life thanks to taking methadone to control his addiction to heroin, and with the invaluable help of his colleague Dizzy Gillespie, Baker returned fundamentally with two performances: one at a major New York club in 1973 and another at a concert with Gerry Mulligan at Carnegie Hall in 1974. Towards the mid-1970s, Baker returned to Europe where he would continue to perform on a regular basis, with occasional trips to Japan and return to the United States. It also attracted the attention of rock musicians, with whom he came to act, for example with Elvis Costello in 1983. In 1987, photographer and film director Bruce Weber undertook the recording of a documentary about Baker.
On the night of March 11, 1988, he gave his penultimate concert at the Colegio San Juan Evangelista in Madrid (Spain), also known as the Johnny. His last concert was on April 1 of that same year in Germany.
On May 13, 1988, he fell through the window of a hotel in Amsterdam (Netherlands) after consuming heroin and cocaine, and died instantly. I was 58 years old.
Bruce Weber’s film, Let’s Get Lost, released in 1988, won an Oscar nomination.
In 1997, his unfinished autobiography was published under the title As though I had wings: the lost memoir. His remains are found in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Los Angeles (California).
In 2015, “Born to be blue” was filmed, a biopic set in the 60s, starring Ethan Hawke playing Chet Baker.
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