I did not know who Chet Baker was until yesterday. I think I may have heard his name before, it is a unique name, but I couldn’t tell you who he was or what he did.
I’m pretty sure every jazz fan, or anyone really acquainted with music for that matter, just hit the floor.
I know. I’m not proud of it and I’ve fixed it. I now know who he was and my ears have heard the absolute beauty of his horn and his voice.
Maybe there are other people out there that don’t know who Chet Baker was, so I’ll share what I learned. He’s beyond blog worthy.
Very briefly, Chet Baker was a trumpet player. He was born in 1929 and died in 1988…58 years old. Left high school at 16 and served in the army twice. His career high, depending on what you read, was during the 50s when he played with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. Their version of My Funny Valentine is legendary. I’ve heard it and there is a weeping soulfulness that words can’t do justice. You need to hear it for yourself.
As with many musicians, Chet’s was a sad tale. During the 50s he became a heroin user and it haunted him for the rest of his life. In 1968, while attempting a drug deal, he was severely beaten. His lips were busted and his teeth were knocked out. He lost the ability to play the trumpet for years.
Here’s the part that always baffles me about these types of stories. I listened to his music, I bought quite a bit of it on iTunes, his playing is so vulnerable and yearning and really really special. He was gifted, but he was troubled and an addict. So much so that he lost his lip placement and his teeth, his gift.
Here’s what I wonder…can the genius live without the addict? Was Chet Baker so haunting and lovely on the trumpet because he was an addict, or do they have nothing to do with one another? Why are so many artists tormented to the point of destroying that which makes them artists.
You can Google the rest of Chet’s details and you’ll find that he made a comeback a couple of times and was considered a jazz great by all that played with him. Ultimately he died with heroin in his system and massive head injuries in Amsterdam.
You know what, now that I think about it, if you don’t know him just listen to his music. The song above is my favorite so far.
Don’t read any more of the sad story, I guess it doesn’t matter. Chet Baker, not heroin, left behind some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. I’m choosing to believe it came from the man’s soul and his habit was just something he could not escape.
My thoughts from the laundry room. Slip Off to Sleep.