Chet Baker was a very natural jazz musician. Never really understanding the mechanics of musical harmony or melodic counterpoint his musical touch was nevertheless effortless and always ‘just right’. Such easiness in music can only stem from having a natural ear and simply being born to do it.
Chet always played from the heart, his motto was to play simple and strong and he excelled in his renditions of ballads and a melancholy sound for which he is best known for. Having said that, Baker could ‘bop’ with the best of them too and his earlier recordings are a fine testament to his versatility in jazz.
He was a leading figure in the genre of ‘cool jazz’ originating out from the west coast of America, some say like jazz carried on the soft breeze of the Pacific Ocean. Chet seemed to have it all with an abundance of natural talent and very good looks. He could play effortlessly by ear and had a smoldering singing voice, in fact it was his singing of ballads which gave him early successes on his own albums.
Chet Baker had a very troubled life through drug addiction, prison, violence and general misery. Almost all of this he did entirely to himself through his choices and actions so in some respects it’s hard to feel sorry for him. Of particular hardship was the time when he was attacked and his teeth were knocked out making it impossible for him to play the trumpet anymore.
Having to relearn how to play all over again was an undertaking which took him years, he did eventually succeed but with a slightly different style. Through all this he had a family and children to support but without the possibility to play jazz and earn money as a musician, life was very tough for all involved.
In the next articles we’ll look deeper into the life and times of this great jazz giant.