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Reminiscing of the Jazz Legend

Album: Chet Baker Sings

Artist: Chet Baker

Genre: #jazz

Sub-Genres: #cooljazz

Label: Blue Note Records

Including references to Let’s Get Lost (A Documentary by Bruce Weber)

“Yes, I may dream a million dreams/but how will they come true/

if there will never be another you”

I had recently watched Let’s Get Lost, a documentary that follows Chet in his last year of life, filmed by iconic fashion photographer Bruce Weber, when I decided to revisit some of my favorite albums from Chet’s discography. I meandered through some of his many sessions in Paris, Milan, and Tokyo, but as per usual with Chet I settled obsessively with his studio album, Chet Baker Sings. His debut vocal record, released in 1954, amid the West Coast Cool Jazz phenomenon (as BeBop ravaged over New York and Chicago) has some of his best vocal performances, as well as the seminal trumpet style he became iconic for.

A year after the documentary was filmed, he was found on the sidewalk below his apartment, with cocaine and heroin in his system and room. Despite the years of bodily neglect, Chet remained “the James Dean of Jazz” to the end; the policeman who found Chet reported that he found the body of a 30-year-old man (Chet was 59 at the time). The mystique does not end there. What the documentary makes so clear is how repulsive Chet’s character really is, and he even seems to know his own misgivings. Chet is reported by friends, family, wives, and colleagues to be dishonest, insecure, and emotionally manipulative, yet love is the only consistent emotion displayed towards him. While I followed Chet through days in Santa Monica, recording sessions, a tour in France, and a tennis match with his mother and children, I might as well fell in love with Chet myself.

Throughout the documentary, many of his contemporaries remark on how effortless Chet’s musical ability was: his lack of practicing yet seemingly knowing all the standards and chord progressions, his precious tone and the way he glides over licks. Charlie “The Bird” Parker famously remarked to Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, “There's a little white cat on the West Coast gonna eat you up,” after playing with Chet in Jazz clubs around the Los Angeles area. Although making a vocal album with such trumpet ability seems dubious, Chet balances it perfectly. The vocal quality of his playing seems to accompany his songwriting arrangements, offering an alternative voice to sing the lyrics. In My Ideal, he pins his solo against the minimalist twinkling of a bell piano while the bass and drums offer silence. He leaves us only his contemplative horn and the lone search for the perfect someone.

Chet Baker Sings is an album of fourteen songs, all about melancholic romanticism. The subject matter seems to be fitting. Chet suffered and suffered others much throughout his tragic life. His obsession with love, profound beauty, and truth, with “the woman” as a device, brought Chet to ultimate misery. He destroyed himself against the ideal, and then brought it to life through his horn.

Even the most hopeful moments, such as Time After Time, when Chet sings “Time After Time/You’ll hear me say/ That I am so lucky to be loving you” it still feels like an echo from a dream he doesn’t want to let go. It is not a mistake the next song is I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes), where he denies the pain he knew he’d receive. The warmness of Chet’s voice and instrumentals make this a very personal album, and each time I revisit it I seem to fall deeply into a muted haze. Chet whispers us his woes in brass and tenor, offering forlorn beauty. Chet wants us to believe in what he sings as much as he does. “If I hear a melody/ it’s merely the way you sigh,” guiding his fingers across the keys is ethereal love itself.

Sounds Like:

1. Bill Evans

2. Miles Davis

3. Stan Getz

Recommended Tracks:

1. ​ It's Always You

2. I Get on Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)

3. Like Someone in Love

4. I Fall in Love Too Easily

Reviewer’s Name: Sam Johnson

Date of Review: 9/21/2021

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