Chet Baker: Age 58 | Cause Of Death: MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES
(b. Chesney H. Baker, 23 Dec 1929, Yale, Oklahoma, d. 13 May 1988, Amsterdam, Holland)
One of the more lyrical of the early post-war trumpeters, Baker’s fragile sound epitomized the so-called ‘cool’ school of West Coast musicians who dominated the American jazz scene of the ’50s. Baker studied music while in the army and soon after his discharge, in 1951, he was playing with Charlie Parker. He gained international prominence as a member of Gerry Mulligan’s pianoless quartet and in late 1953, after another short stint with Parker, formed his own group, which proved to be extremely popular. Baker kept this band together for the next three years, but he was not cut out for the life of a bandleader, nor was he able to withstand the pressures and temptations which fame brought him. He succumbed to drug addiction and the rest of his life was a battle against dependency. Inevitably, his music frequently fell by the wayside. In the ’80s, in control of his life, although not fully over his addiction, he was once again a regular visitor to international jazz venues and also made a few incursions into the pop world, guesting, for example, on Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding. Probably his best work from this later period comes on a series of records he made for the Danish Steeplechase label with a trio that comprised Doug Raney and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. By this time his clean-cut boyish good looks had vanished beneath a mass of lines and wrinkles—fellow trumpeter Jack Sheldon, told by Baker that they were laugh-lines remarked, ‘Nothing’s that funny!’. In his brief prime, Baker’s silvery filigrees of sound, albeit severely restricted in tonal and emotional range, brought an unmistakable touch to many fine records; however, his lack of self-esteem rarely allowed him to assert himself or to break through the stylistic bounds imposed by exemplars such as Miles Davis. A film, Let’s Get Lost, charts the closing years of the erratic life of this largely unfulfilled musician, who died falling, or possibly jumping, from an Amsterdam hotel window.
His Life and Music
by Jeroen De Valk
As Though I Had Wings : The Lost Memoir
by Chet Baker