Happy Birthday, Chet Baker!

chetbakerChet Baker (December 23, 1929 - May 13, 1988) was an American jazz trumpeter, singer, and flugelhorn player. Although he was known as a jazz musician, he gained critical praise for his vocal ability, particularly on his album, Chet Baker Sings.

chetbaker3Chesney Henry Baker, Jr. was raised in a musical household in Oklahoma. His father was a professional guitar player, and Chet began his musical career by singing in a church choir. Baker dropped out of high school and joined the army at age 16 and was posted in Berlin, where he joined the 298th Army Band. Two years later, he left the army to study theory and harmony at El Camino College, but again, dropped out to re-enlist in the army, becoming a member of the Sixth Army Band in San Francisco. Finally, Baker obtained an army discharge in order to pursue his music career.

chetbaker2Baker's early professional career included gigs with Vido Musso's band, as well as tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. In 1951, he was joined Charlie Parker for a series of gigs along the West Coast. In 1952, Chet joined the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, which became enormously popular, and contributed heavily to the development of Chet's musical style. Rather than playing identical melody lines in unison, like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the two would complement each other's playing with contrapuntal touches, so that they appeared able to anticipate what the other would play next. Baker became heavily associated with their version of "My Funny Valentine".



The Quartet lasted less than a year because of Mulligan's arrest and imprisonment on drug charges, and Baker went on to form quartets with other musicians. In 1955, Baker made his acting debut in the film Hell's Horizon, and in 1956, Pacific Jazz released Chet Baker Sings, which increased his profile. Baker was quite influential as a musician, helping to establish the West Coast "cool school" of jazz.




Baker's career hit a considerable rough patch as his heroin use, begun in the 1950s, finally caught up to him. At various times, Baker had to pawn his instruments to maintain his drug habit, and was in and out of jail for many years on drug-related offenses.

In 1968, Baker was savagely beaten during an attempt to buy drugs after a gig, and sustained severe injuries to his face, ruining his embouchure (the use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece of woodwind instruments or the mouthpiece of the brass instruments). During this time, Baker took odd jobs, including pumping gas. Months later, he landed a gig in New York.



After healing and developing a new embouchure, Baker relocated to New York and resumed performing and recording music, notably with Jim Hall. In the late 70s, Baker traveled to Europe, and continued to perform and reside there almost exclusively, for the rest of his life. In Europe, he experienced his most prolific era as a recording artist. In 1983, Elvis Costello hired Baker to play a solo on his song "Shipbuilding," which became a top 40 hit in the UK. Baker would later feature Costello's "Almost Blue" in his live sets, and recorded the song on Let's Get Lost, the documentary about Baker's life.

Baker's life has been immortalized in documentaries, plays, and songs, many of which have received critical acclaim. In 1991, singer/songwriter David Wilcox recorded the song "Chet Baker's Unsung Swan Song" on his album "Home Again," speculating what might have been Baker's last thoughts before falling to his death.

In the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, December 23 is known as "Chet Baker Day".




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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Tuesday, 23 December 2014
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