Written by Dan Miller
(1929-1988) Chet Baker's gorgeous tone, lyrical improvisations and unique vocal style made him a star in the early fifties. Baker exemplified what came to be known as "West Coast" jazz. Chet's first break came in 1952, winning an audition to work with Charlie Parker in Los Angeles. In the summer of 1952, he joined Gerry Mulligan's new group, a ground breaking piano-less quartet with fresh approach toward collective improvisation and ensemble work (Listen: Bernie's Tune and Lullaby of the Leaves). Working out of the Haig (a small L.A. nightclub), Baker and Mulligan began recording for Pacific Jazz (Gerry Mulligan: The Original Quartet with Chet Baker) and created a sensation. The group broke up a year later with Mulligan's arrest on drug charges.
Baker began recording as a leader for Pacific Jazz (Chet Baker Quartet with Russ Freeman and Chet Baker Sings), becoming one of the biggest stars in jazz. His singing voice possessed a purity and haunting beauty that seemed almost na´ve. While most identified with ballads and lyrical statements, Baker could burn on fast tempos (Listen: Bea's Flat and All the Things You Are) and Chet embraced them.
In the mid-sixties, Baker co-led an excellent band with George Coleman. This repertoire of this group drew from many of the traditional sources (standards, classic bebop tunes and original material) and they waxed five tremendous records for Prestige: Boppin', Smokin', Groovin', Cool Burnin' and Comin' On.
Throughout his career, Chet continued to make fine records while battling drug addiction, the loss of his teeth and serving various jail terms. These difficulties imposed a huge physical and creative toll on Baker, but his undeniable lyricism, musicality and raw charisma continued to be the components, which made him an international star until his death.
© 2002 Dan Miller
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