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Baker, Chet (actually, Chesney Henry)

jazz time eventually death

Baker, Chet (actually, Chesney Henry), jazz trumpeter, singer; b. Yale, Okla., Dec. 23, 1929; d. Amsterdam, May 13, 1988, in a fall from a second floor hotel room window. When Baker was 13, he was given a trumpet (initially a trombone, but he was too small to handle it). Soon he began sitting in with jazz groups in Calif., including one session that was recorded with Charlie Parker, who reportedly was impressed. Baker achieved national fame working with the Gerry Mulligan quartet in 1952, then led his own group with Russ Freeman (1953–4). He began using marijuana in the late 1940s and eventually became a serious heroin addict with several run-ins with the law; he spent time in the stockade and in jails in N.Y., Italy (1960–1), and England. He was beaten by hoodlums in San Francisco in 1968, chipping one tooth. His teeth were already in such bad shape that they eventually had to be replaced, yet he was able to recover and play superbly on some later dates. His death was thought to be a drug related accident. He left behind several broken marriages. At the time of his death, he was scheduled for a tour of the Netherlands.

Baker is widely admired for his sunny lyrical sense and sensitive expressivity. During the 1950s, he had many imitators, especially among white players; though compared with Miles Davis and clearly influenced by him, Baker’s style would never be mistaken for the much darker one of Davis. Though he played mostly by ear and was not a good reader, Baker negotiated changes accurately. He reached a wider audience by adding light, casual, “cool” vocals to his repertory. He was the subject of photographer Bruce Weber’s stylish documentary film, Let’s Get Lost . Besides his jazz work, he also worked with minimalist composer Terry Riley during the early 1960s.

Baker, Claude [next] [back] Baker, Charlotte Alice (1833–1909) - New England History

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