A good place to start with Chet’s music. These recordings cemented his image of the ‘James Dean of jazz’.
A radio recording of Chet’s quartet playing live on two different concerts in 1955. It's the first set that is really striking – Chet’s on fire! Three of the tunes are at breakneck speed but Chet’s in absolute control, improvising crisply and creatively, even touching a high E– a high note for any trumpeter, let alone from one who supposedly couldn’t play in the high register. His mid tempo rendition of ‘Isn’t it Romantic’ is a masterclass in lyrical, creative, flowing trumpet playing.
My personal favourite from his early period. This was a re-scheduled recording, as the original pianist (and also Chet’s best friend and mentor) Dick Twardzick died in his hotel room from a drug overdose as Chet and the rest of the quartet waited for him at the studio. Chet then fell out with his drummer and two little known European musicians were hastily recruited for the re-scheduled session 3 days later. This beautifully crafted recording reveals a depth of emotion and character that had not previously existed in his playing.
This is made up of 2 recordings – ‘Chet Baker with 50 Italian Strings’ and ‘Chet Baker in Milan’. The strings recordings are lush, mostly vocal renditions of his songbook from that time, but it’s the Milan recording with a top drawer Italian sextet that is really exciting. Chet’s understated fast playing again demonstrates that, on his day, he could match any of the bop trumpeters of the era. And on the mid tempo tunes he delivers solos full of grace and lyricism with a bright, commanding tone. Within a few months Chet was jailed in Italy and his life from then on was a downward spiral of drug addiction, incarceration and utter desolation. It was to be another 20 years before Chet came anywhere near the artistry of this recording.
This was the soundtrack for the Bruce Weber film ‘Let’s Get Lost’ which was recorded in the year before Chet’s death, and unfortunately he never lived to see it. This album consists entirely of ballads, and if you like Chet’s singing, you’ll find this to be one of the ultimate late night melancholic recordings.
This was a live concert, recorded just 2 weeks before Chet’s death. The set consists of his favourite songs, arranged especially for him with the NDR big band and the Hannover radio Orchestra. Chet didn’t turn up for the rehearsal, and on the afternoon of the soundcheck he was refused entry to the auditorium as door staff assumed he was a hobo. Chet’s inner beauty came seeping through that night as he played some of the best music of his life. Clearly inspired by the arrangements and the top class setting, he soared over the up-tempo tunes and his tone on the ballads was as light and delicate as a feather. Many of these solo are masterpieces, and for one last time he plays My Funny Valentine, finding new meaning and even greater depth than ever before.