CHET BAKER - BIOGRAPHY

Chet with mother Vera                       

Chet Baker was born Chesney Henry Baker, Jr., on December 23, 1929. Chet's father, Chesney Henry   Baker, Sr. also had musical talent as a guitar player. He played in a country and western band semiprofessionally. Chet's mother, Vera, was an eighteen year old farm girl who met Chet, Sr., when he played at a local dance in Yale Oklahoma.

                                                                                                          The first ten years of Chet's life was spent in Oklahoma. His mother took him to all the local talent contests which he never won. He also sang in church on a regular basis.

          

In 1940, due to the lack of work for Chet's father in Oklahoma, the family moved to Glendale, California. When Chet was thirteen his father brought home a trombone. The trombone didn't work out very well because Chet was so small compared to the trombone. Chet, Sr. took away the trombone and replaced it with a trumpet.  

 It wasn't long before he was playing in the school band. After school he would go to the bowling ally and pick up pins and set them up again. This was before the automatic pin setting machines were used. He made good tips because he was so fast at it.  

           

In 1946 Chet's mother and father signed papers so he could enlist in the army. He soon found himself in Berlin, Germany. Then just as quickly he was a member of the 298th Army Band. After a year he was discharged from the army and returned to Los Angeles . He signed up for a course in music theory at El Camino College. He completed one year. 

 Once again, Chet enlisted in the army and joined the Presidio Army Band in San Francisco. He played in the band all day, then went to sleep in the evening. He would get up at 1 am. and go and play until 6 a.m. Then he would race back in time for reveille, play in the band then back to sleep. He did this for about a year until he was transferred to Ft. Huachuca in the Arizona desert. Even though he was able to play in the band, life away from Los Angeles did not appeal to Chet. After a couple of months Chet went AWOL. He was gone for about a week and then decided that it would be better to return. After reporting to the military authorities he was put through a series off psychiatric tests at a military hospital and declared unfit for military service. He was given an honorable discharge. 

 

One of the earliest recordings that Chet can be heard playing on is from a recording from a gig at the "Trade Winds Club" on March 24, 1952. Chet played anywhere and everywhere he could.. 

               

 It was around this time that he received the famous telegram from Dick Bock, head of World Pacific Records, that "Bird" was having an audition for a trumpet player at the "Tiffany Club" at three o'clock that afternoon. Every trumpet player in Los Angeles was there . Someone must have let Charlie know that Chet had arrived at the club because he asked personally that Chet Baker step up to the microphone. Luckily, "Bird" called a couple of tunes that Chet knew. Half way through the audition "Bird" stopped the band and announced that the audition was over and that Chet was hired. He was 22 years old. He went on to play with Charlie Parker on the west coast and also a short tour of Canada.

                

  In the summer of 1952, Gerry Mulligan formed a quartet. Chet and Gerry had played on various gigs around Los Angeles so it was no surprise when he hired Chet as part of his band. It lasted about a year until Mulligan had to do a 90 day sentence. Unfortunately, Chet and Gerry never did get back together again as a quartet. Chet stayed on at the Haig playing with the likes of Stan Getz and others. 

                   

                     

World Pacific Records soon came calling and signed Chet to a contract. Chet quickly formed his own quartet with Russ Freeman, Red Mitchell, and Bobby White, on his very first recording for World Pacific. Chet and the band immediately gained the attention of critics and jazz lovers everywhere. He went on to win or place in the top five of the Downbeat and Metronome jazz polls for the next several years. The band broke up in the summer of 1955. Keeping a band together is not easy. There were conflicts over money and other issues.

                 

On March 1, 1955, .Chet signed a contract with GRAVIS PRODUCTIONS, INC. who were to produce a movie for COLUMBIA PICTURES CORPORATION The movie entitled "Hell's Horizon" starred John Ireland. It was a war movie and Chet would play the part of a gunner "JOCKEY. "Work days spanned two weeks - March 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18,1955.The studio was impressed by Chet's performance and he was offered a 7-year contract by Columbia. Without hesitation, Chet turned down the offer. His reason - "I didn't like standing around for hours all day to shoot a few minute of film. All I want to do is play - that's all.

                

Seven months later he left for a seven month tour of Europe. He was joined by pianist Dick Twardzik, bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Peter Littman. The band was recorded only a few times due to the untimely death of pianist Dick Twardzik on October 21, 1955. 

The shock of losing Dick and having to continue on the tour put Chet in the position of having to hire other musicians. There were many top notch musician happy to play with Chet. Their ranks consisted of musicians such as Lars Gullen, Bobby Jaspar Jacques Pelzer, Benoit Quersin and others. 

Chet Baker Quintet "You Don't Know What Love Is" Rome, January 1956

Chet Baker (tp, vocals) Jean-Louis Chautemps (ts) probably Francy Boland (p) Eddie de Haas (b) Charles Saudrais (dm).

    

      

 His stay in Europe lasted until April 1956 when he arrived back in the United States He immediately formed another group, signed another contract with World Pacific and went to work recording again. Chet continued winning awards, in 1957,58 and 59 he had received awards from the Playboy All Star Jazz Polls.   

Chet was presented with one of the Playboy awards on the Tonight TV Show, N.Y.C., late 1956, this appearance was released on the album "The 2 Trumpet Geniuses Of The 50's"      

Soon Chet was experimenting with the very drug that had killed Dick. This led to the beginning of his problems with drugs and the law in the early years. After several drug busts and a sentence of four months on Riker's Island of which he served two, for good behavior, Chet decided to return to Europe where he felt he was more appreciated as an artist.  

               

In the Autumn of 1959, Chet found himself working in Italy. Concerts and club dates kept him busy. In February of 1960, he met his future wife Carol Jackson, an English fashion model. Just a few months later, In the summer of '60, Chet overdosed and was detained in Lucca along with the doctors who had been supplying his habit. In April 1961, Chet was convicted and sentenced to 16 months in prison but released in December. He found studio and film work in Italy and remained there until 1964, when he was busted in Germany and deported.

 

Chet Baker, TV Show, Torino, Italy 1959

 Chet Baker (Voice, Trumpet) Lars Gullin (Sax) Glauco Masetti (bass) Romano Mussolini (Piano) Franco Cerri (Guitar) Jimmy Pratt (Drums)

Chet baker's performance in the italian movie "Urlatori alla sbarra" 1960

 

Chet Baker Performing role in "Tromba Fredda" 1963

During his time in Italy, Chet made a film in 1963 directed by Italian filmmaker Enzo Nasso. The movie was called Tromba Fredda 

In March, 1964 Chet arrived back in the United States again after being deported from Berlin, Germany on a similar offence. With no money in his pockets he had to get a ride into New York City from the police who were at the airport to meet him. Things were a lot different after almost five years away in Europe. The jazz scene had changed a lot. The British invasion had started and everyone was interested in rock music now. Jazz had to take a back seat. 

    

      

 It was during this time that he fell into the hands of an unscrupulous manager and his troubles began again. 

Within six weeks he had sent for Carol and their baby son, Dean, born in England on December 25th 1962. Eighteen months later he found himself, literally, on the street with Carol, Dean and a new baby, Paul, born in New York City on September 11, 1965. His "manager" had stripped him of everything financially and would not even answer the door or the telephone.

Chet produced several recording's belonging to him, but it was later discovered that they were produced on the Prestige Label illegally.  

             

It was then that Chet packed what few things he could into the rented station wagon and drove across country to California to his mother's house. Once again, it didn't take him long to sign a contract with World Pacific and record again. Chet played with the Mariachi Band Unfortunately, he wasn't recording the kind of music he liked to play. It did enable him to support his young family for a while.

            

He found himself going out of town for gigs. He would have preferred to have worked around town, but the work just wasn't there. A trip to Colorado in the early spring of 1966 found him playing with Phil Urso, again, one of his favorite musicians, The recording of this club date is available as "Live at Gaetano's" on the CCB label.

The worst was yet to come. On the day his third child, Melissa, was born July 22, 1966, Chet was being mugged in Sausalito California. The club date had been for two weeks. It was his last night at the club. He had just been paid and was getting ready to return home. Just a short distance from the club he was attacked by five young guys. He managed to keep his money, but they beat him badly and broke all his teeth. The next morning Carol arrived home with the new baby and shortly thereafter received a phone call from Chet explaining what had happened to him. He was at the bus station in San Francisco waiting to get on a bus home.  

After two years on welfare learning to play his instrument all over again, Chet was ready to take the plunge in public. At first, just sitting in here and there in small coffee shops or places like them. He gained a little more confidence each time he played. In 1968, he played at the Melody Room in Hollywood. Things got better. He signed a contract with Verve in 1970, Released on the album "Blood, Chet and Tears"

In 1973 while playing a gig with Dizzy Gillespie, they got talking about things. Dizzy offered to help Chet get booked into the Half Note in New York. Dizzy was good friends with the owners and put a phone call in right away. Soon, Chet was off to New York for the first time in eight years. 

              

 His playing was still not strong, but the more he played the stronger it got. After his two week gig at the Half Note things slowed down a little. He worked here and there and managed to keep reasonably busy, but the money wasn't there on a regular basis. In November of 1974 he recorded an album with Paul Desmond for CTI Records. Soon after that on November 24 the reunion with Gerry Mulligan at Carnegie Hall took place. CTI Records was there to record the packed event.  

After Carnegie Hall, Chet looked around for a club that he could work in on a regular basis. Difficult to find, but he managed to talk his way into Strykers Pub in New York. He started out on weekends but soon was working every night except Sunday and Monday. The club started to fill up every night. Things were going well. "Strykers" lasted for several months During that same time he also played at the "Village Vanguard" and "Village Gate". 

       

In July 1975 Chet left for Italy. It was his first time back in the country he loved so much. It had been thirteen years. He worked constantly traveling all across Europe. He received several awards along the way during the mid 70's and 80's. Many of his European recordings were made without his knowledge and he was never paid.  

Chet Baker Live In Holland 1975

Traveling was hard on him and very tiring. He managed to get back home to New York every couple of months, but try as he might to find enough work in the United States to pay the bills, it wasn't to be. The offers would come and he would be back to Europe again.  

                        

Back home again in 1977, he recorded for A&M Records and Artists House. Of course, he always had bookings to go back to  Europe. His time at home was limited if he couldn't find work in the United States. He always checked around to see each time he returned home to see if he could stay longer, but the opportunities just weren't there. Then that inevitable phone call would come inviting him to leave even sooner because of a booking. 

Chet was playing all over Europe, many of his live concerts where released on the Enja, Philology and Steeplechase labels.

Chet Baker interview about drugs and jazz, 1980

Interviev in Italian subtitled in English

    

"AN EVENING WITH CHET BAKER" (aka "LIVE AT LE DREHER 1980")

Chet Baker with a quintet filmed live in Paris at Le Dreher on February 29, 1980

In 1982 Chet returned to his home town of Yale, Oklahoma, while visiting with family Chet landed a gig in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and played at the "Nine of Cups Club" it was recorded by the club owners and released on the Fantasy records label, titled "Out Of Nowhere"

      

Chet Baker & Stan Getz: Live In Stockholm 1983

Chet Baker (trumpet) Stan Getz (tenor sax) Jim McNeely (piano) George Mraz (bass) Victor Lewis (drums), Stockholm, Sweden, Sodra Theatre, Feb 18, 1983.

Chet Baker (trumpet) Sal Nistico (tenor sax) Lorne Lofsky (guitar) Chris Connors (bass) Art Frank (drums) Renaissance II, Buffalo, NY, November 11, 1984

In 1984 while visiting family in Oklahoma again, Chet landed a gig on the east coast, in Buffalo, New York, playing with Sal Nistico and Lorne Lofsky at the "Renaissance II Club" it was broad cast live by one of the local radio stations, and the master recording was turned over to the estate after Chet passed away, it was released on the estate label, first as "Live in Buffalo" and then "Live at the Renaissance II"

 

      

Chet Baker Quintet

Chet Baker (trumpet) Fred Raulston (vibes) Floyd Darling (piano) Kirby Stuart (bass) Paul Guerrero (drums) Martha Burks (vocals)Dallas, TX, January 13, 1985

    

 Chet Baker Candy

A 1985 video recording features legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker joined by Michel Graillier and Red Mitchell on piano and Jean-Louis Rassinfosse on bass. Also includes an interview with Baker. Stockholm, Sweden, June 30, 1985

    

 Chet Baker Trio With Van Morrison "Live at Ronnie Scott's" 

Chet Baker (trumpet) Michel Graillier (piano) Ricardo Del Fra (bass) Van Morrison (vocals -9) Ronnie Scott's Club, London, England, November 24, 1986

    

Chet Baker  "Let's Get Lost" Documentary Film

Chet Baker (trumpet) Frank Strazzeri (piano) Nicola Stilo (guitar -12) John Leftwich (bass) Ralph Penland (drums -1/5)Hollywood, CA Paris, France, January-May, 1987 

    

Chet Baker Quartet "Live In Tokyo"

Chet Baker (trumpet) Harold Danko (piano) Hein Van De Geijn (bass) John Engels (drums) Hitomi Kinen Kodo, Tokyo, Japan, June 14, 1987.

Chet Baker Last Interview

Chet Baker, Alain Jean-Marie, Michel Grailler, Nicolas Stilo, Georges Brown, Jean Bardy, Amsterdam, December 31, 1987 

 

Chet Baker "Live In Stuttgart 1988"

Chet Baker (tp, vocals) Nicola Stilo (fl,g) Walther Schomocker (b) Vincent Seno (dm), "Theaterhaus", Stuttgart, Germany, April 17, 1988

Chet Baker The Final Days

"Warning this footage contains images from the investigation of his death"

Interviews with : Russ Freeman, William Claxton, Chet Baker, Evert Hekkema, Rob van Bavel, Jacques Pelzer, Philippe Catherine, etc. 

Chet spent most of his last 15 years traveling back and forth between Europe and the United States. This was his lifestyle. This is what he loved doing. Chet died at approximately 3.00 a.m. on Friday, May 13, 1988, after having "allegedly" fallen out of his hotel window in Amsterdam, Holland. He was 58 years old. Chet was laid to rest next to his father at the Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California on May 21, 1988.

Chet Baker Biography