Chet Baker: The rise and fall of a jazz icon

Youth of Chet Baker

Chet Baker was born in 1929 in Yale, Oklahoma. His father, Chesney, was a trombonist and his mother, Vera, was a piano teacher. Baker began playing the trumpet at the age of 12, and quickly demonstrated a talent for the instrument. In 1946, he dropped out of high school to enlist in the U.S. Army Group.

Rise to fame

After his discharge, he toured Europe before moving to Hollywood to join a big band led by Jerry Vail. He joined Stan Kenton’s organization for a few years before returning to Europe in 1956, where he played with such notable groups as those led by André Ekyan and Claude Thornhill.

Baker’s first recordings date back to 1947 for the small Savoy label. He took his first big break playing with Lennie Hayton before joining Capitol Records in 1949.

He recorded prolifically for major labels throughout his career. He signed with RCA Victor in 1956 and released his first album for the label that year. In 1963, he recorded with a big band led by Moon Mullican, then after a few years without recording or playing, set up his own record label. and new bands in 1964.

From 1965 to 1968, he led the Louis Armstrong All-Stars. In 1969, he left his record label and went on tour with the Jazz Messengers. In 1970, after a brief return to recording for Prestige Records and Max Roach’s Freedom Productions, Baker released his last album in 1971.

Baker’s star continued to rise in the early 1950s. He toured Europe and Asia with great success. He recorded several albums that are now considered classics, including “Chet Baker Sings” and “My Funny Valentine”. His personal life was also tumultuous, as he struggled with drug addiction and relationships. Yet his music has always remained true to his soul.

Fighting addiction

In the late 1950s, Baker’s career began to decline. His drug addiction led to problems with concerts and recordings. He was arrested several times and spent time in prison. His health also deteriorated, as he contracted tuberculosis. Despite this, Baker continued to play and recorded several albums in the 1960s.

Chet Baker and the movies–YquirSA

His music has been used in numerous films and television programs. Chet Baker is considered one of the most influential jazz saxophonists of all time. He recorded over 30 albums during his lifetime, including a number of groundbreaking albums such as:

  • “Small Groups”
  • “The Last Days of Old San Francisco”.

His music has been used in numerous films and TV shows, such as:

  • “Quentin Tarantino ‘s Reservoir Dogs”,
  • “Super Troopers
  • “The Sopranos
  • “The Simpsons Movie,
  • Brick”.

He was nominated for thirteen Grammy Awards, winning in 1972. Chet Baker’s music exploded in popularity in the 1960s. He had been playing jazz since the 1940s, so his popularity was due to the highly influential jazz club scene.

Always Europe

From 1975 onwards, Chet Baker was often divided between Europe and the USA, playing alongside pianist Michel Graillier (who accompanied him for over ten years), the Belgian Philip Catherine, or one of the most consistent double bassists in European jazz, the Parisian Jean-François Jenny-Clark.

His concerts alternated between the extraordinary and the mediocre, but more often than not, he simply didn’t go on stage. He left Carol, but the divorce was never finalized.

Chet Baker discography

Chet Baker’s best albums

Chet Baker’s best albums :

  1. Chet Baker chante (1956)
  2. The Chet Baker Quintet plays (1957)
  3. Chet Baker Quartet plays (1958)
  4. The Chet Baker Trio plays (1959)
  5. The Chet Baker Quartet plays again! (1960).

Chet Baker’s entire discography

From 1953 to 1966

  • 1953:
    • Haig ’53: the other pianoless quartet (Philology)
    • L.A get together (Fresh Sound)
    • Chet Baker & strings [bonus tracks] (Columbia)
    • The Chet Baker Quartet (Pacific Jazz) with Russ Freeman
    • Chet Baker Quartet featuring Russ Freeman (Pacific Jazz)
    • Chet Baker Sings (Pacific Jazz Records)
    • Chet Baker Ensemble: Compositions and arrangements by Jack Montrose (Pacific Jazz Records)
    • Grey December (Pacific Jazz Records)
    • Witch doctor (Original Jazz Classics)
    • Miles Davis and the Lighthouse All-Stars, At Last !
    • Quartet live, vol. 1: This time the dream’s on me (Blue Note)
  • 1954:
    • Chet Baker Sextet (Pacific Jazz Records)
    • Jazz at Ann Arbor (Pacific Jazz Records)
    • My Funny Valentine (Philology)
    • The trumpet artistry of Chet Baker (Pacific Jazz Records)
    • Quartet live, vol. 2: Out of nowhere (Blue Note)
    • Quartet live, vol. 3: My old flame (Blue Note)
  • 1954-1956: Chet Baker sings (Pacific Jazz Records)
  • 1955:
    • Chet Baker sings and plays with Bud Shank, Russ Freeman & strings (Pacific Jazz Records)
    • In Europe (Philology)
    • Chet Baker In Paris Volume 1
    • Chet Baker In Paris Volume 2
  • 1956:
    • Chet Baker big band (Pacific Jazz Records)
    • At the Forum Theater (Fresh Sound)
    • Chet Baker & Crew (Pacific Jazz Records)
    • Chet Baker cools out (Boblicity)
    • Chet Baker in Europe (Pacific Jazz Records)
    • Live in Europe 1956 (Accord)
    • Quartet: Russ Freeman/Chet Baker (Pacific Jazz Records)
    • The James Dean story (Blue Note)
  • 1957 :
    • Embraceable you (Pacific Jazz Records)
    • Pretty/groovy (World Pacific)
  • 1958:
    • Chet Baker in New York (Riverside)
    • Chet Baker introduces Johnny Pace (Original Jazz Classics)
    • Chet Baker meets Stan Getz (Verve)
    • Chet Baker sings it could happen to you (Riverside)
  • 1958-1962: Piero Umiliani & Chet Baker (film music composed by Piero Umiliani)
  • 1959:
    • Chet (Riverside)
    • Chet Baker in Milan (Jazzland/OJC)
    • Chet Baker plays (Riverside)
    • Chet Baker plays the best of Lerner & Loewe (Riverside)
    • Chet Baker with fifty Italian strings (Original Jazz Classics)
  • 1962: Chet is back! / Somewhere over the rainbow (RCA), same session released under two different names
  • 1964:
    • The most important jazz album of 1964/1965 (Roulette Jazz)
    • Brussels 1964 (Landscape)
    • Stella by starlight (CMA)
  • 1965:
    • Baby breeze (Limelight)
    • Baker’s holiday: plays & sings Billie Holiday (EmArcy)
    • Boppin’ with the Chet Baker quintet (Prestige)
    • Comin’ on with the Chet Baker quintet (Prestige)
    • Cool burnin’ with the Chet Baker quintet (Prestige)
    • Groovin’ with the Chet Baker quintet (Prestige)
    • Smokin’ (Prestige)
  • 1966:
    • A taste of tequila (World Pacific)
    • Hats off!!! – with The Mariachi Brass (World Pacific)
    • Into My Life (World Pacific)

From 1969 to 1988

  • 1969: Albert’s house (Par)
  • 1970: Blood, Chet & tears (Verve)
  • 1974: She was too good to me (CTI/Epic)
  • 1977:
    • Once upon a summertime (Original Jazz Classics)
    • The incredible Chet Baker plays and sings (Carosello)
  • 1978:
    • At the Dreher (West Wind)
    • Broken wing (Inner City / Jazz in paris-Universal)
    • Live at Nick’s (Criss Cross)
    • Live in Chateauvallon, 1978 (INA / Esoldun)
    • Sings, plays: Live at the Keystone Korner (High Note)
    • Two a day (All life)
  • 1979:
    • 79 (Celluloid)
    • Ballads for two – with Wolfgang Lackerschmid (Sandra)
    • Chet Baker with Wolfgang Lackerschmid (Inakustik)
    • Day break (SteepleChase)
    • Live in Montmartre, vol. 2 (SteepleChase)
    • No problem – with Duke Jordan (SteepleChase)
    • Someday my prince will come (SteepleChase) with Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (b), Doug Raney (g) (live at Montmartre, Copenhagen, October 4, 1979)
    • The touch of your lips (SteepleChase)
    • This is always (steepleChase)
    • Together – with Paul Desmond (Enja)
    • With special guests (featuring Coryell & Williams) (Inakustik)
  • 1980:
    • Soft Journey – with Enrico Pieranunzi (Ida)
    • Burnin’ at Backstreet (Fresh Sounds)
    • Chet Baker with Steve Houben (Sextet)
    • Chet Baker and the Boto Brasilian Quartet (Dreyfus)
    • Just friends (Circle)
    • Live at the Subway, Vol. 1 (Circle)
    • Live at the Subway, Vol. 2(Circle)
    • Night bird (WestWind)
    • Nightbird (Retro Music)
  • 1981 :
    • Live at Fat Tuesday’s (Fresh Sound)
    • Live at the Paris Festival (DIW)
    • Live in Paris (Norma)
  • 1982:
    • In Concert ( India Navigation)
    • Out of nowhere (Milestone)
    • Peace (Enja)
    • Studio Trieste (CTI)
  • 1983:
    • At Capolinea (Red)
    • Club 21 Paris, Vol. 1 (Philology)
    • Live at New Morning (Marshmallow)
    • Live in Sweden with Åke Johansson trio (Dragon)
    • Mister B (Timeless)
    • September song (Marshmallow)
    • Star eyes (Marshmallow)
    • The improviser (Cadence Jazz)
  • 1984:
    • Blues for a reason (Criss Cross)
    • Line for Lyons (Sonet)
  • 1985:
    • Candy (Gazell)
    • Chet Baker in Bologna (Dreyfus)
    • Chet’s choice (Criss Cross)
    • Diane: Chet Baker and Paul Bley (SteepleChase)
    • Hazy hugs (Limetree)
    • Live from the moonlight (Philology)
    • Misty (IRD)
    • My foolish heart (IRD)
    • Sings again (Bellaphon)
    • Strollin’ (Enja) – live at 7th Jazz Festival Münster, Germany, June 1985
    • Crystal Bells (Igloo)
    • Symphonically (Soul Note)
    • There’ll never be another you (Timeless)
    • Time after time (IRD)
    • Tune up (Westwind)
  • 1986:
    • As time goes by (Timeless)
    • When sunny gets blue (SteepleChase)
  • 1987:
    • A night at the Shalimar (Philology)
    • Chet Baker in Tokyo (Evidence)
    • Chet Baker, The Legacy, vol 1 with NDR Big Band Live (Enja)
    • Chet Baker, The Legacy, vol 2 – I Remember you (Enja)
    • Chet Baker, The Legacy, vol 3 with Wolfgang Lackerschmid (Enja)
    • Silence
    • Chet Baker featuring Van Morrison live at Ronnie Scott’s (DRG)
    • Chet Baker Sings and Plays from the Film “Let’s Get Lost” (Jive/Novus)
    • Four: live in Tokyo, vol. 2 (Paddle Wheel)
    • Memories: Chet Baker in Tokyo (Paddle Wheel)
    • Welcome back (Westwind)
  • 1988:
    • Farewell (Timeless)
    • In memory of – with Archie Shepp (L & R Music)
    • Little girl blue (Philology)
    • My favourite songs, vols. 1-2: The last great concert (Enja)
    • Oh you crazy moon (Enja Justin Time)
    • Straight from the heart (Enja)
    • The heart of the ballad (Philology)
    • Live In Rosenheim – Last Recording As Quartet

Artists Chet Baker has recorded with

Chet Baker has made numerous career-defining recordings with a host of famous artists:

Ron Carter

  • 1980: Patrao (Milestone)

Stan Getz

  • 1953: West Coast Live (Pacific Jazz Records)
  • 1958: Stan Meets Chet (Verve)
  • 1983: Line For Lyons – Live at Stockholm (Sonet)

Jean-Jacques Goldman

  • 1985: Parler d’ma vie (album “Non Homologué”)

Rachel Gould

  • 1979: All Blues (Bingow)

Jim Hall

  • 1975: Concierto (CTI)

Steve Houben

  • 1980: Sweet Martine (Sextet) 52e Rue Est Records

Duke Jordan

  • 1980: No Problem (SteepleChase)

Lizzy Mercier Descloux

  • 1985: One 4 the soul (ZE Records)

Gerry Mulligan

  • 1952-1953: The Original Mulligan Quartet (Pacific Jazz Records)
  • 1953: Lee Konitz Plays With The Gerry Mulligan Quartet (World Pacific)
  • 1953: Gerry Mulligan Tentet (Capitol)
  • 1957: Reunion
  • 1952-1958: The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker
  • 1974: Carnegie Hall Concert (CBS) with G.M. (b.sax), Chet Baker (trp), Ed Byrne (trb), Bob James (p), John Scofield (g), Ron Carter (b), Harvey Mason (d), Dave Samuels (vb)

Joe Pass

  • 1965: A Sign Of The Times (World Pacific)

Art Pepper

  • 1956: The Route
  • 1956: Playboys or Picture Of Heath (Pacific Jazz)

Annie Ross

  • 1958: Annie Ross Sings A Song With Mulligan (Pacific Jazz)

Bud Shank

  • 1966: California Dreamin’ (World Pacific)
  • 1966: Brazil! Brazil! Brazil! (World Pacific)
  • 1966: Michelle (World Pacific)
  • 1968: Magical Mistery (World Pacific)

Death of Chet Baker

Baker’s decline continued into the 1970s and 1980s. He was homeless and addicted to heroin. His health deteriorated further, and he lost most of his teeth. In 1988, he was assaulted and beaten so badly that he required brain surgery. He died shortly afterwards in 1990.

His funeral took place two days later at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Manhattan and was attended by hundreds of friends and colleagues from the world of jazz and popular music.

In an obituary for Baker published in “The New York Times”, it was mentioned that he was a “key figure” in jazz and “a pillar of American culture for more than six decades”.

Baker is survived by his wife Elizabeth, two children from his marriage to Ernestine Wilkins, a son from his marriage to Jeanette Mackey and three grandchildren. His remains were crem ated, and his ashes were donated to the Baker family.

According to his friend and collaborator, Quincy Jones, Baker had an “almost contagious passion for life”. In ” The Washington Post”, wrote Dan Zak, “He was a walking embodiment of the idea that if you saw something you wanted to do, all you had to do was go out and try it”.

His legacy and influence on jazz music

Although he died prematurely at the age of 58, Chet Baker’s impact on music continues to be felt today. His records are regarded as classics that still inspire young artists. Many modern musicians still carry his music forward through innovative reinterpretations.

Numerous archives and documentary films have also been produced to pay tribute to his unique contribution to music. One of the most popular films about his life is “Let’s Get Lost”, an intimate portrait of Baker by director Bruce Weber. The film recounts Baker’s tumultuous career and explores his complex relationships with jazz and other musicians.

What’s more, his music continues to be enjoyed by fans the world over. Fans can listen to his songs and discover new interpretations of his works. Despite his short career and countless obstacles, Chet Baker has left a lasting legacy in music history.

Chet Baker was an American jazz trumpeter and bugler who profoundly influenced the music scene. His expressive, melodic playing was acclaimed by critics and fans worldwide. Although his career was hampered by personal and physical problems, he remained dedicated to his passion for music and left behind a lasting legacy.

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