Chet Baker

Chet Baker

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Biography

Chet Baker was born on December 23, 1929 in Yale, Oklahoma and was a jazz trumpeter, flugel hornist, and singer. Baker was known throughout his career for his voice, his 'movie-star' looks, and his very pubic drug habit. Born into a musical environment and raised with music, Baker was drawn to music early on. His father was a professional guitar player who encouraged his son's singing in a church choir. His father also introduced him the trombone, and the trumpet, which Baker began to favor over the trombone as time when on. Baker excelled at music during elementary and junior high school, however at sixteen he enlisted in the army and was posted to Berlin.

When Baker left the army he began to focus on his music after spending time in a number of San Francisco jazz clubs. Baker got his start playing with saxophonist, Vido Musso's band, then with saxophonist Stan Getz, and finally Charlie Parker in 1951. 1952 saw Baker joined the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, which was an instant hit with the audiences due to their complimentary playing styles. Mulligan and Baker had such a rapport that audiences flocked to see them perform live. Their success was cut short by Mulligan's arrest, drug charges, and prison sentence. Baker went on to form quartets with Russ Freeman, Carson Smith, Joe Mondragon, Jimmy Bond, Shelly Manne, Larry Bunker, and Bob Neel over the next few years. 1955 marked Baker's acting debut in “Hell's Horizon,” however, he shied away from the studios after that, preferring life on the road instead. Baker released his debut, “Chet Baker Sings” in 1956, which gained him a whole new audience, but alienated him from traditional jazz fans.

By the mid-1950s, Baker's heroin habit started to become a problem as he found it harder to focus long enough to record his music. By the 1960s his music, his good looks, and popularity was beginning to decline, in addition to serving a year in prison in Italy for drug charges. Baker moved to New York City in the mid-60s to re-start his jazz career; he began to record and to perform with guitarist Jim Hall. The 1970s saw Baker move to Europe and record sporadically as his drug habit took a hold of him. Baker began to only perform in Europe, with the occasional performance in the U.S once a year. Despite less live performances and record releases is the U.S, Baker was moderately successful in Europe and was able to record enough music to support himself as a musician. His work during this period was well-received by fans and critics alike, and became his more creative and prolific periods throughout his career.

Baker worked with pianist Phil Markowitz from 1978 to 1980, and worked as part of a trio with guitarist Philip Catherine and bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse from 1983 to 1985. He also toured with saxophonist Stan Getz during this period and worked with the singer/songwriter Elvis Costello on his song “Shipbuilding.” Baker's final performance took place in in Japan in 1987, who despite looking like a man much older than he was and ravished by a drug addiction, he was still able to wow his audiences with his trumpet playing. A live album, “Chet Baker in Tokyo,” followed the performance, which has been ranked by critics and fans alike as one of Baker's best pieces of work. Baker died in 1988 in Amsterdam on the street below his second-story hotel room. He was found with fatal wounds to his head and both heroin and cocaine in his system. It is believed he jumped or fell out of his hotel window.

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