Saturday, November 13, 2010

and though you want to last forever, you know you never will, you know you never will, and the goodbye makes the journey harder still

Chet Baker is one of my utmost favorite musicians. He's known best for his recording of the tender ballad "My Funny Valentine" - and his version is pretty much synonymous with the song itself - and the 1988 documentary that followed his turbulent life in the time leading up to his death - an accidental fall from a hotel window the same year the film was released. 

When Chet was a young musician in the 1950s, he was famous for his matinee star good looks just as much as his trumpet-playing abilities. The handsome young jazz musician was thought to be a cross between "James Dean and Jack Kerouac." 
Baker's career began to decline when the effects of his heroin use, which he had enjoyed regularly since the 1950s, began to affect his appearance, his ability, and his personal and financial security. By the end of the 1950s, Baker was pawning his instruments for money to support his heroin addiction. 

The 1960s found Baker serving a one-year prison sentence in Italy for drug-related offenses, while also facing deportation in West Germany and the UK for similar problems. He was still addicted by 1966 when he was severely beaten by a group of men after a performance in San Francisco. Chet made it out alive, but after being kicked in the face several times by his attackers, his mouth was split and torn and his front teeth were broken, essentially ruining his embouchure (the facial muscles & way the lips shape to the mouthpiece of a wind instrument). As a result, Baker had to relearn to play the trumpet and flugelhorn with dentures. He eventually developed a new embouchure with the dentures, and Baker was able to make a comeback in the 1970s. The effects of his lifestyle were very evident, as his matinee idol good looks had disappeared and, as Village Voice critic J. Hoberman put it, he became "a seamy-looking drugstore cowboy-cum-derelict." 

I think it's fascinating to listen to what Baker could do with not just a trumpet, but with his voice as well. He had a gorgeous voice. Perhaps due to his experience as a trumpeter, but Baker knew how to use his voice in the most subtle ways possible - it never sounds like he's over-extending himself or trying to make a record sound hot. He just sings. And it's beautiful. The gentle quietness of his voice is cool and refreshing, especially in comparison to a lot of other jazz musicians who do big vocal arrangements. 

1 comment:

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excellent post!! I love Chet Baker