Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chet Baker (1929-1988)


Chet Baker (1929-1988) was an American jazz trumpeter, composer and singer. He dropped out of high school at 16 and joined the Army, becoming a member of a band at the Presidio in San Francisco. After he left the military, he began playing in San Francisco jazz clubs. Among his earlier successes were being chosen to play with Stan Getz, then with Charlie Parker. Baker was very handsome, and was given a part in a movie in 1955 and offered an acting contract, which he declined in favor of continuing his life as a musician.

Baker's style of playing was unique, different from established jazz groups, and became known as being part of what was called the West Coast cool school of jazz.

Baker started using heroin in his 20s, and that habit eventually destroyed him and his career. He was known to have pawned his instruments to get money for a fix, and spent time in prison on a drug conviction. He was also later deported from West Germany and from the UK because of drug offenses. He settled in the San Francisco bay area and played in local clubs. He was beaten up one night and had many of his teeth knocked out, which destroyed his trumpet-playing style. He had to relearn how to play with dentures. After that, Baker left San Francisco and moved to New York City, then went to Europe again in the 1970s, where he lived for about the last ten years of his life. Although he continued to record, he did not receive the critical or financial support of previous years. Elvis Costello invited him to play on one of his recordings, and a younger generation began to discover the music of Chet Baker.

Baker died in 1988 as the result of an accidental fall out of the window of his second-story hotel room in Amsterdam. The autopsy found heroin and cocaine in his body.

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