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Chet Baker


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Chesney Henry "Chet" Baker, Jr. was an outstanding American jazz trumpeter, flugelhornist and a vocalist who gained fame during the early fifties. Though he was a talented performer, his talent and life was destroyed by the evil of drugs.

Chet Baker was born on December 23, 1929 on a farm on the outskirts of Yale, Oklahoma. Later, shifted to Los Angeles with his parents at the age of 10. Baker, who was privileged with a musical family background enters the musical world when he was a kid. He marks his entrance to the world of music by joining the church choir team. He was introduced to playing trombone by his father who himself was a professional guitar player. Not to mention that his mother was also a very talented pianist. At the age of 13, Baker makes a significant mark in his musical career by replacing the trombone with a trumpet due to the fact that the trombone being huge.

Even though Baker received musical education at Glendale Junior High School, he left school at the age of 16 to join the United States Army where and joined the army band. In his transition period, he left the army in 1948 and attended El Camino College in Los Angeles where he studied theory and harmony. But he was dropped out again and joined the army again in 1950. The he became a member of the sixth army band at the Presidio in San Francisco. At this point in his life Baker was into Jazz music. He became a huge fan of Miles Davis and soon he was into the popular jazz clubs in the city of San Francisco.

Afterwards, he had a major breakthrough in his career when he was chosen by one of the great saxophonist, Charlie Parker in 1952 to perform in a series of West Coast engagements. In the same year he joined Mulligan's pianoless quartet. The duo gained early success due to some high quality performances such as "Walkin' Shoes," "Bernie's Tune" and "My Funny Valentine," . One major reason for their early success was the dynamic combination that they had. Eventhough the pair gained early success, it lasted less than a year due to the arrest of Mulligan on drug charges. Due to this dissolution, Baker forms his own quartet with Russ Freemen, Carson Smith, Joe Mondragon, jimmy Bond, Shelly Manne, Larry Bunker and Bob Neel. Once again Bakers team had tremendous early success through the live performances and also through the albums produces in between 1953 and 1956. Due to this success, he was names Metronome magazine's top trumpeter in 1953. He achieved this beating the era’s best trumpeters Miles Davis and Clifford Brown. This was a significant milestone in his career. He was also gifted with a delicate voice which later helped in producing some high quality vocals such as “Let’s get lost” and many more. In addition he also enhanced and grabbed international attention through European tours in 1955 and in 1956. His movie star looks were tackled by the Hollywood movie makers in 1955, where he made his debut acting in the movie Hell’s horizon. He then became an idol of the West Coast "cool school" of jazz. Even though he was in the run for fame, he was stuck by the evil of drugs.

During 1950s, Baker started using heroin which resulted to be his greatest lifetime addiction. He lost his valuables including his instruments to buy drugs, he was put into prison for drug-related offenses in Italy. He was deported from West Germany to the US because of drugs. He settled in Milpitas, Northern California. He was also assaulted while trying to buy drugs at a restaurant and hence his embouchure was ruined. After developing a new embouchure resulting from dentures he got back to Jazz and started performing again pursuing his career. He partnered with guitarist Jim Hall. After sometime he went back to Europe and started performing and recording and was also assisted by one of his friends namely Diane Vavra. From 1978 his life became more prosperous and brought about a lot of fame. His era starting from 1978 until his death was considered to be prolific, his recording reached a wider audience than never before. Most importantly his quartet featuring pianist Phil Markowitz and his trio with guitarist Philp Catherine and bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse were a mega hit. Baker also recoreded a live album in Tokyo featuring his own name Chet Baker. Baker's compositions included "Chetty's Lullaby", "Freeway", "Early Morning Mood", "Two a Day", "So Che Ti Perderò" ("I Know I Will Lose You"), "Il Mio Domani" ("My Tomorrow"), "Motivo Su Raggio Di Luna" ("Tune on a Moon Beam"), "The Route", "Skidadidlin'", "New Morning Blues", "Blue Gilles", "Dessert", and "Anticipated Blues".

On May 13th, 1988 , Baker was found dead on the Prins Hendrikkade, near the Zeedjik, the street below his second- story room of Hotel Prins Hendrik in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Postmortem showed the use of drugs in his body before death. Wounds and injuries were also spotted. Even though there were many doubts on the cause of death it was ruled out to be an accident. The room he stayed is still remembered and was also named “The Chet Baker Room”. He was buried at the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. Baker, who had a Jazz genre was composed of several styles that can be classified and discussed under three main perspectives namely, styles related to playing the trumpet, flugelhorn and as well as his vocal styles. His styles in overall includes Cool, West Coast Jazz, Vocal Jazz, Jazz instrument, Trumpet Jazz, Film score, pacific jazz, Timeless, Circles, Enja, Prestige and Riverside. His Jazz heavy weights includes Pepper Adams, Bill Evans, and Kenny Burrell. He was one of the most melodious trumpeters who made the music feel very relaxing and also he rarely went over a single octave adding more simplicity to the music. His album moods include atmospheric, dreamy, relaxed, elegant, refined, sweet, stylish, autumnal and sensual. His all-time best performances includes September song, If you could see me now, How high the moon, Alone together, It never entered my mind and many more.
Baker, who had a tremendous contribution to the world of music did not have a steady life in music. He was gifted with the art of music, he was gifted with looks, he was gifted with a build musical background, and nevertheless he could live a steady life in the world of music due to his greatest addiction to drugs. In concluding his musical career, it is notable that he was very much attracted to the field of music. He starts his musical career at the school choir and then drops out of school to join the United States Army where he joins the army band. He sharpens his abilities in music at the band and later in his he was invited Charlie Parker to perform in a series of west coast engagements where he gains much attention and fame. After gaining much fame, he joins Mulligan's pianoless quartet. After the duo split, he forms his own quartet and becomes the top trumpeter of the year 1953. Though he went through the toughest of his times due to the usage of drugs, he comes back with more quality performances. In 1983 he was hired by a British singer Elvis Costello to play a solo on his song called “shipbuilding”. Though he was addicted to drugs, he never gave up on his music nor did the music go out of his soul.

In conclusion it is possible to note that Baker is one of the greatest jazz trumpeter, flugelhornist and a vocalist who had a very soft touch of music. Even though he had a musical background, it is with much great effort and dedication one can reach the heights of Baker. His dedication and hard work is still preserved and enjoyed by millions around the world even today. His songs had touched the souls and swept it away by the relaxing touch of it. His work to the world of music is undoubtedly tremendous. His greatest hits including Summertime, My funny valentine, But not for me and many more are irreplaceable. He himself is irreplaceable. If it was not for his drug addiction, he would have reached heights that nobody could have ever imagined. Even though he was a victim of the evil of drugs, his legacy in music will continue forever.

1.Valk, Jeroen De. Chet Baker: His Life and Music. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Hills, 2000. Print.
2.Tyrrell, John, Stanley Sadie, and George Grove. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan, 2000. Print.
3.Zwerin, Michael. The Parisian Jazz Chronicles: An Improvisational Memoir. New Haven: Yale UP, 2005. Print.
4. "Studies of Great Composers Paperback – September 12, 2013." Studies of Great Composers: Charles Hubert Hastings Parry: 9781230239804: Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 June 2015.
5. Koehler, Elisa. Fanfares and Finesse: A Performer's Guide to Trumpet History and Literature. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2014. Print.

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