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Chet Baker

Chet Baker was a primary exponent of the West Coast school of cool jazz in the early and mid-'50s. As a trumpeter, he had a generally restrained, intimate playing style and he attracted attention beyond jazz for his photogenic looks and singing. But his career was marred by drug addiction.

Baker's father, Chesney Henry Baker,Sr., was a guitarist who was forced to turn to other work during the Depression; his mother, Vera (Moser) Baker, worked in a perfumery. The family moved from Oklahoma to Glendale, CA, in 1940. As a child, Baker sang at amateur competitions and in a church choir. Before his adolescence, his father brought home a trombone for him, then replaced it with a trumpet when the larger instrument proved too much for him. He had his first formal training in music in junior high and later at Glendale High School, but would play largely by ear for the rest of his life. In 1946, when he was only 16 years old, he dropped out of high school and his parents signed papers allowing him to enlist in the army; he was sent to Berlin, Germany, where he played in the 298th Army Band. After his discharge in 1948, he enrolled at El Camino College in Los Angeles, where he studied theory and harmony while playing in jazz clubs, but he quit college in the middle of his second year. He re-enlisted in the army in 1950 and became a member of the Sixth Army Band at the Presidio in San Francisco. But he also began sitting in at clubs in the city and he finally obtained a second discharge to become a professional jazz musician.

Baker initially played in Vido Musso's band, then with Stan Getz. (The first recording featuring Baker is a performance of "Out of Nowhere" that comes from a tape of a jam session made on March 24, 1952, and was released on the Fresh Sound Records LP Live at the Trade Winds.) His break came quickly, when, in the spring of 1952, he was chosen at an audition to play a series of West Coast dates with Charlie Parker, making his debut with the famed saxophonist at the Tiffany Club in Los Angeles on May 29, 1952. That summer, he began playing in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, a group featuring only baritone sax, trumpet, bass, and drums -- no piano -- that attracted attention during an engagement at the Haig nightclub and through recordings on the newly formed Pacific Jazz Records (later known as World Pacific Records), beginning with the 10" LP Gerry Mulligan Quartet, which featured Baker's famous rendition of "My Funny Valentine."

The Gerry Mulligan Quartet lasted for less than a year, folding when its leader went to jail on a drug charge in June 1953. Baker went solo, forming his own quartet, which initially featured Russ Freeman on piano, Red Mitchell on bass, and Bobby White on drums, and making his first recording as leader for Pacific Jazz on July 24, 1953. Baker was hailed by fans and critics and he won a number of polls in the next few years. In 1954, Pacific Jazz released Chet Baker Sings, an album that increased his popularity but alienated traditional jazz fans; he would continue to sing for the rest of his career. Acknowledging his chiseled good looks, nearby Hollywood came calling and he made his acting debut in the film Hell's Horizon, released in the fall of 1955. But he declined an offer of a studio contract and toured Europe from September 1955 to April 1956. When he returned to the U.S., he formed a quintet that featured saxophonist Phil Urso and pianist Bobby Timmons. Contrary to his reputation for relaxed, laid-back playing, Baker turned to more of a bop style with this group, which recorded the album Chet Baker & Crew for Pacific Jazz in July 1956.

Baker toured the U.S. in February 1957 with the Birdland All-Stars and took a group to Europe later that year. He returned to Europe to stay in 1959, settling in Italy, where he acted in the film Urlatori Alla Sbarra. Hollywood, meanwhile, had not entirely given up on him, at least as a source of inspiration, and in 1960, a fictionalized film biography of his life, All the Fine Young Cannibals, appeared with Robert Wagner in the starring role of Chad Bixby.

Baker had become addicted to heroin in the 1950s and had been incarcerated briefly on several occasions, but his drug habit only began to interfere with his career significantly in the 1960s. He was arrested in Italy in the summer of 1960 and spent almost a year and a half in jail. He celebrated his release by recording Chet Is Back! for RCA in February 1962. (It has since been reissued as The Italian Sessions and as Somewhere Over the Rainbow.) Later in the year, he was arrested in West Germany and expelled to Switzerland, then France, later moving to England in August 1962 to appear as himself in the film The Stolen Hours, which was released in 1963. He was deported from England to France because of a drug offense in March 1963. He lived in Paris and performed there and in Spain over the next year, but after being arrested again in West Germany, he was deported back to the U.S. He returned to America after five years in Europe on March 3, 1964, and played primarily in New York and Los Angeles during the mid-'60s, having switched temporarily from trumpet to flügelhorn. In the summer of 1966, he suffered a severe beating in San Francisco that was related to his drug addiction. The incident is usually misdated and frequently exaggerated in accounts of his life, often due to his own unreliable testimony. It is said, for example, that all his teeth were knocked out, which is not the case, though one tooth was broken and the general deterioration of his teeth led to his being fitted with dentures in the late '60s, forcing him to retrain his embouchure. The beating was not the cause of the decline in his career during this period, but it is emblematic of that decline. By the end of the '60s, he was recording and performing only infrequently and he stopped playing completely in the early '70s.

Regaining some control over his life by taking methadone to control his heroin addiction (though he remained an addict), Baker eventually mounted a comeback that culminated in a prominent New York club engagement in November 1973 and a reunion concert with Gerry Mulligan at Carnegie Hall in November 1974 that was recorded and released by Epic Records. By the mid-'70s, Baker was able to return to Europe and he spent the rest of his life performing there primarily, with occasional trips to Japan and periods back in the U.S., though he had no permanent residence. He attracted the attention of rock musicians, with whom he occasionally performed, for example adding trumpet to Elvis Costello's recording of his anti-Falklands War song "Shipbuilding" in 1983. In 1987, photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber undertook a documentary film about Baker. The following year, Baker died in a fall from a hotel window in Amsterdam after taking heroin and cocaine. Weber's film, Let's Get Lost, premiered in September 1988 to critical acclaim and earned an Academy Award nomination. In 1997, Baker's unfinished autobiography was published under the title As Though I Had Wings: The Lost Memoir and the book was optioned by Miramax for a film adaptation.

Baker's drug addiction caused him to lead a disorganized and peripatetic life, his constant need for cash requiring him to accept many ill-advised recording offers, while his undependability prevented him from making long-term commitments to record labels. As a result, his discography is extensive and wildly uneven. ~ William Ruhlmann
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Live In Bologna 1985 / Two A Day

Disc 1

1. Two-A-Day

2. Blue Room (Live)

3. If I Should Lose You

4. This Is Always

5. The Best Thing For You

Disc 2

2. My Foolish Heart (Live)

3. Tune Up (Live)

4. My Funny Valentine (Live)

6. Down (Live)


Track List: Chet Baker With Len Mercer & His Orchestra

1. I Should Care

2. Violets For Your Furs

3. The Song Is You

4. When I Fall In Love

6. Autumn In New York

7. Angel Eyes

9. Forgetful

10. Deep In A Dream


Track List: Chet Baker: The Very Best

1. My Funny Valentine

2. Happy Little Sunbeam

3. The Thrill Is Gone

4. Bockhanal

5. This Is Always

6. The Half Dozens

7. Time After Time

8. Taboo

9. Let's Get Lost

10. Love Nest

11. But Not For Me

12. Picture Of Health


Track List: Deep in a Dream: The Ultimate Chet Baker Collection

1. My Funny Valentine (Instrumental)

2. Aren't You Glad You're You

3. This Time The Dream's On Me

4. The Thrill Is Gone

5. Blue Room

6. Spring Is Here

7. The Wind

8. Let's Get Lost

9. You Don't Know What Love Is

10. Summer Sketch

11. Halema

12. Ponder

13. A Night On Bop Mountain

14. Little Girl Blue

15. Alone Together

16. Deep In A Dream

17. Whatever Possess'd Me

18. Petite Fleur (Little Flower)

19. My Funny Valentine (Vocal)


Track List: I Remember You

1. Stella By Starlight

2. I Remember You (Live)

4. I'm Old Fashioned (Live)

5. Margerine


Track List: Songs For Lovers

1. Come Rain Or Come Shine

2. My Old Flame

3. That Old Feeling

4. Lullaby Of The Leaves (Live)

5. There's A Lull In My Life

6. Moonlight In Vermont (Live)

7. Darn That Dream

8. My Ideal

9. Imagination

10. Embraceable You

11. Lush Life

12. Goodbye


Track List: The Italian Sessions

1. Well You Needn't

2. These Foolish Things

3. Barbados

4. Star Eyes

5. Somewhere Over The Rainbow

6. Pent-Up House

7. Ballata In Forma Di Blues

8. Blues In The Closet


Track List: Lonely Star

1. Grade "A" Gravy

2. Serenity

3. Fine And Dandy

4. Have You Met Miss Jones?

5. Rearin' Back

6. So Easy

7. Madison Avenue

8. Lonely Star

9. Wee, Too

10. Tan Gaugin


Track List: Stairway To The Stars

1. Cherokee

2. Bevan Beeps

3. Comin' On

4. Stairway To The Stars

5. No Fair Lady

6. When You're Gone

7. Choose Now

8. Chabootie

9. Carpsie's Groove

10. I Waited For You

11. The 490


Track List: My Funny Valentine

1. My Funny Valentine

2. Someone To Watch Over Me

3. Moonlight Becomes You

4. This Is Always

5. I'm Glad There Is A You

6. Time After Time

7. Sweet Lorraine

8. It's Always You

9. Let's Get Lost

10. Moon Love

11. Like Someone In Love

12. I've Never Been In Love Before

13. Isn't It Romantic

14. I Fall In Love Too Easily


Track List: Strollin' (Live)


Track List: She Was Too Good To Me

1. Autumn Leaves

2. She Was Too Good To Me

3. Funk In Deep Freeze

4. Tangerine

5. With A Song In My Heart

6. What'll I Do

7. It's You Or No One

8. My Future Just Passed


Track List: Baker's Holiday

1. Travelin' Light

2. Easy Living

3. That Ole Devil Called Love

4. You're My Thrill

5. Crazy She Calls Me

6. When Your Lover Has Gone

7. Mean To Me

8. These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You)

9. There Is No Greater Love

10. Don't Explain


Track List: Baby Breeze

1. Baby Breeze

2. Born To Be Blue

3. This Is the Thing

4. I Wish You Love

5. Everything Depends On You

6. One With One

7. Pamela's Passion

8. The Touch Of Your Lips

9. Comin' Down

10. You're Mine, You

11. Sweet Sue, Just You

12. A Taste Of Honey

13. Think Beautiful

14. I Wish You Love - Alternative Take

15. Think Beautiful - Alternative Take


Track List: Chet Is Back!

1. Well, You Needn't

2. These Foolish Things

3. Barbados

4. Star Eyes

6. Pent-Up House

7. Ballata In Forma Di Blues

8. Blues In The Closet


Track List: Chet Baker In New York (Live)

1. Fair Weather (Live)

2. Polka Dots And Moonbeams (Live)

3. Hotel 49 (Live)

4. Solar (Live)

5. Blue Thoughts (Live)

6. When Lights Are Low (Live)

7. Soft Winds (Live)


Track List: Chet Baker And Crew

1. To Mickey's Memory

2. Slightly Above Moderate

3. Halema

4. Revelation

5. Something For Liza

6. Lucius Lu

7. Worryin' The Life Out Of Me

8. Medium Rock

9. To Mickey's Memory (Alt. Take)

10. Jumpin' Off A Clef

11. Chippyin'

12. Pawnee Junction

13. Music To Dance By

14. Line For Lyons


Track List: Chet Baker Big Band

1. Tenderly

2. A Foggy Day

3. Darn That Dream

4. Mythe

5. Chet

6. Not Too Slow

8. Dinah

9. V-Line

10. Worrying The Life Out Of Me

12. Dots Groovy

13. Stella By Starlight

14. Tommyhawk

15. I'm Glad There Is You

16. The Half-Dozens


Track List: Chet Baker Sings

1. That Old Feeling

2. It's Always You

3. Like Someone In Love

4. My Ideal

5. I've Never Been In Love Before

6. My Buddy

7. But Not For Me

8. Time After Time

9. I Get Along Without You Very Well

10. My Funny Valentine

11. There Will Never Be Another You

12. The Thrill Is Gone (Vocal Version)

13. I Fall In Love Too Easily

14. Look For The Silver Lining


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smooth. whoops already said.
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With our political climate so bad:need him more than ever
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After all these years (70+), Chett Baker has finally come into my life! Soooo sweet.
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not a wasted life but a heart breaker...lo v e his music
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Actually, I just ran across two Ph D theses about Chet's music
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My very favorite jazz player. It isn't how many notes you play, but it is the notes you play. And Chet plays all the right notes.
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Chet Baker, Leroy Vinegar, Art Pepper
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Such a magnificent talent wrapped in a tragic life.
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Like a tumble weed dancing across the prairie... fancy and free
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I agree, weezie13 said it all - Just the best!!!
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Just the best!!!
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Chet baker's relaxed style is extremely please nt
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Miles Davis- I listen to and for so many reasons - Chet Baker plays next. Good music and I dig it ok. Thanks - C.Baker.
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His music lives on.....thank s to Pandora..... RIP Mr. Baker
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To those who say things like, What a waste of talent... You know, sometimes people, both great and not-so-great , make mistakes and LIVE THEIR LIVES. Substance addiction is never a good thing, but Baker still managed to have an output of work that can be appreciated even today. Ultimately, we ALL succumb to one thing or another and more cannot be accomplished . Because we run out of time or the ability to do things, even if it's through our own choices, that doesn't make a life a waste.
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Michael Missiras
Trumpet/Corn e t / C o m p o s e r
NYC/ arctic1974@g m a i l . c o m

This album is also known as "Chet is Back" and recorded after his realize from prison in Italy in 1962. He learned how to speak Italian in prison as well as being able to play his trumpet.
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parrotboy368 2
His Live in Tokyo recordings from the late 70s are haunting and incredible. Every bit as captivating as anything by anyone, ever. His version of Elvis Costello's Almost Blue is one of the most beautiful pieces of music of any genre, ever.
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cobban.barne t t
Ranks right up there with the best of them :)
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Chet Baker could sing! Listen to Look For The Silver Lining.
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So beautiful! Voice and instrument.
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Chet was at his best with Gerry mulligan
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Like running your hand across velvet.... so smooth
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Beauty & the Beast!
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Cool is......Chet Baker and Steve McQueen!
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he sang Yesterdays on an album anyone know which one
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This song is not the best it is stoopid
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Can't add much to the comments, except to totally agree with the appreciatrio n for Baker's talent and sadnees for his tragic adiction - he had much ability to add pleasure to our music lives!
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this is december music... thank you internet
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Gifted man, its sexy, mellow, smooth, and sadly reflects what his reasons were for getting hooked. We loose them and it is our ears loss. Love his music its moving in every way, THANKS Chet Baker.
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When I first met Chet at Glendale Hi in 1947 I did not know I was commiseratin g with genius - Later privileged to visit The Haig on many occasions I became mesmerized by he and Mulligans musical blendings which shall last an eternity
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So many emotions come forth with each note. Pandora one of your best
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He is so good...and could had been very very rich. But just like other artist... Drugs took them away from us. Really sad... Love music... And other works. He is a truly versatile artist! RIP
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I consider Chet to be an original hipster
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signhandsnyc o l . . . i n the moment...rea l . A contributor to his art. Taken down like so many before him and after him. Addiction.
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Excellent singer too.
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wonderful mellow jazz music that is a perfect backdrop for a romantic evening with candlelight dinner
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What a warm, lovely voice. just heard him on pandora, Now a favorite!
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@elgonz ha..
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Crazy how he touches my life so deeply for no apparent reason
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@Ann Seeger...yes , his art like so many genuises was and is timeless for it is what it is and he will be teaching, thru it for all time. Celebrate that for in any case there will never be the likes of him again, so celebrate!
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How tragic! Drugs followed a remarkable musical talent Think how Chet's career would have blossomed even further without this scourge that haunted him throughout his life?
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michaelblade s 8
Such greatness and such sadness at the same time.
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I only have 31 of his albums (CD). The most understated, romantic, lyrical trumpet ever. He could sing, nay, weep with his instrument. He is my all time favorite jazz musician. I lost my oldest son to heroin. Nuff said.
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Awesome stuff, just love Chet!
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The sexiest horn ever!
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Saw him back in the '60s @ the Cork and Bib in LI
Even ignominiosly hung out in the men's room blowing weed. Great times!
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