Chet Baker: New York, 1964 - JazzWax

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April 16, 2012


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Dmitri Matheny


It's so satisfying to read this thoughtful, articulate assessment of Chet's best work. Love your blog!


Larry Kart

Baker's supposed "long decline of no return" is a canard IMO and also in that of his so far only reliable biographer Jeroen De Valk, author of "Chet Baker His Life and Music." (James Gavin's Baker bio "Deep in a Dream" is often a crock.) In particular, de Valk makes a strong case (and I agree) that Baker's best recordings were made after he returned to Europe in the late 1970s; while there are duds there, due to physical failings and some less than ideal bands, the ratio of successes is quite high. In any case, the recoded evidence is available. I'd suggest Baker's Steeplechase ("This Is Always," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Daybreak," "The Touch of Your Lips") and Criss Cross ("Chet's Choice") label recordings. Best of all perhaps are the double CD "Chet Baker in Tokyo" (Evidence) from 1987 and last year's dpuble CD "Chet Baker, The Sesjun Radio Shows" (Out of the Blue), from 1976-'85.

Dave James

Agree with Larry's nomination of "In Tokyo". Two CD's crowded with some of Chet's best playing ever, including his take on Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue". I'm also partial to a more obscure recording on Red Records from 1983 called "Live at Capolinea". It features a jaw dropping 11+ minute version of the Bruno Martino classic, "Estate".


I have no idea about Whitlock's possible roll in encouraging Chet's bad habits, but much of the material in Gavin's book appears to be unsubstantiated rumor.
I agree with Larry and Dave about Chet's late recordings. I'd also recommend a 2003 album on which Phil Urso reprises many of the numbers he recorded with Chet called "Phil Urso and Carl Saunders Salute Chet Baker." Of course Carl sounds more like Fagerquist than Baker, but it's a fine album with a Colorado rhythm section that had probably been working with Phil.

Red Sullivan

...and another at the absolute peak is "Live at The Moonlight" on Philology. I think it's mid-'80s, an Italian club. This one, very particularly, for me is the most inspired Baker ever. Check his "How Deep Is The Ocean" solo.
Another great moment is his 1985 duo record with Paul Bley, "Dianne", on SteepleChase. Sublime record. Really.

Larry Kart

Yes, "Dianne" is sublime. Momentarily forgot about that one.

Doug Zielke

Mr. Kart knows his Chet. I have all the recordings he mentions, and they are uniformly wonderful.

And... a sucker for jazz bios, I bought the Gavin book when it first came out. What a waste of money!


Opposed to your appraisal of Chet's flugelhorn playing, Marc, I do think that the trumpet was the more appropriate tool for his expressive, too often as "cool" mislabeled sound.

Chet could burn the house when in good spirits. I'd strongly recommend some of his live CD's (1950's) which surfaced in the 1990's.

I love (and have) all the albums, mentioned by Larry: Also here, he live tracks are best. -- On "Live At The Moonlight", and also on "Diane" (both recorded in 1985), Chet's trumpet sound is "not from this world" anymore; it is as direct as his singing voice; nothing seems to stand between Chet's gaunt body and the horn.

All lines are naturally flowing out of the bell. Pure magic!

Bill Kirchner

I heard Chet live 5-6 times in the '70s and '80s, and he was dazzling. The irony was that the worse he looked, the better he played.

On one of those occasions, he was playing flugelhorn (borrowed from Joe Shepley) in a short-lived quintet with tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico. They played difficult, seldom-performed bop tunes like "Deception," and there was no lack of heat.

Let me add to the list of superior late-Baker recordings "Once Upon a Summertime" (OJC, 1977), with Gregory Herbert, Harold Danko, Ron Carter, and Mel Lewis. It also was Gregory's (a great, now-forgotten tenor saxophonist who died young in 1978) own favorite of his too-few recordings.


the most important album is on spotify


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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of 55 More Songs," "Anatomy of a Song," "Rock Concert: An Oral History" and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax has won three Jazz Journalists Association awards.
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