Chet Baker with the Bradley Young Trio: Chet in Chicago

C. Michael Bailey By

Sign in to view read count
Chet Baker with the Bradley Young Trio

Chet in Chicago

Enja Records


What is the cultural value of trumpeter Chet Baker 20 years after his death in Amsterdam? An interesting rift between biographers has emerged, the schism running along the interface of Baker's substance abuse and the art he generated in spite of it. James Gavin's Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) was a searing look at the artist: musician, junky, cultural icon.

Critics have challenged that Gavin failed to apply equal attention to Baker's good attributes and music. These critics favor Jeroen de Valk's Chet Baker: His Life and Music (Berkeley Hills Books, 2000) an excellent biography to be sure, but while it it does recount Baker's chemical dependency, it falls short of describing the tornado that was Chet Baker, maiming lives and relationships in his wake. An accurate cultural view of Baker is accomplished by the sum of these two books. One should not be read without the other.

So, what of the music? Technically, Baker was no magician. Like Miles Davis, Baker preferred the trumpet's middle register, blowing a mellow tone that would define cool jazz's response to the white-hot virtuosity of bebop; Baker could not light a fire like Dizzy Gillespie or Fats Navarro. Unlike Davis, Baker was not a notable composer but, rather, was a superb stylist of standards. Part of this success was his uniquely vibrato-less trumpet tone and singing voice. These attributes of Baker's talent were so special that they made him the de facto face of cool jazz. That effectively made Baker a cultural icon. So we have the image and the reality. This is why Baker requires a multiple-perspective consideration socially and culturally.

Saxophonist Charlie Parker once said that all he was trying to do was play the "pretty notes." This was an effortless task for Baker, whose tone possesses a wounded beauty, one steeped deeply in the American romantic myth. His recordings are immediately accessible and completely digested, and therefore, understandable. Add to this that Baker always recorded at a very proficient level regardless of his physical condition. Enja records has been documenting the chronological final recordings of Chet Baker, having release the exceptional The Last Great Concert (Enja, 2004) and the The Legacy series, of which the present Chet in Chicago is the fifth volume to be released.

Chet in Chicago is a previously unreleased session with the trumpeter and solid piano trio lead by Bradley Young. Recorded in May of 1986, the session found Baker in a vocal and horn tone consistent with other recordings from his late period. The repertoire is no surprise. Baker war horses "My Funny Valentine," "Sippin' at Bell's,"; and "Solar" end the disc in that order. Baker is never flashy or dissonant. He proves to be quite the traditionalist when approaching a melody and then improvising on it. This is what makes Baker so readily listenable where a true trend-setter like John Coltrane presents music (particularly on his late-period Impulse! releases) too challenging for pedestrian listening.

Baker proves a capable musical linguist able to translate the knotty bebop of Parker's "Orinthology," the slippery hard bop of "Sippin' at Bells," and the cool proto-modalism of "Solar." The trumpeter sounds relaxed and confident, throwing off thoughtfully created melodies like Byron throwing off rhymes. Baker and tenor saxophonist Ed Peterson prove a provocative pair on their treatment of these songs. Bradley Young's leadership coupled with his competent arranging and soloing make this a most enjoyable disc. As for Baker, he will remain an enigma argued about and discussed as long as his music continues to compel listeners' imaginations. We should be grateful that Chet Baker's talent was as transparent as it remains.

Tracks: Old Devil Moon; It's You or No One; We'll Be Together Again; Ornithology; Crazy Rhythm; My Funny Valentine; Sippin' At Bells; Solar.

Personnel: Chet Baker: vocals, trumpet; Ed Peterson: tenor saxophone; Bradley Young: piano; Larry Gray: bass; Rusty Jones: drums.

Chet Baker Jazz Discography Project

Year Released: 2008 | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


More Articles

Read Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight Extended Analysis Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight
by John Kelman
Published: February 19, 2017
Read Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon Extended Analysis Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon
by Doug Collette
Published: February 18, 2017
Read Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix) Extended Analysis Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix)
by John Kelman
Published: February 12, 2017
Read The Rolling Stones: Blue and Lonesome Extended Analysis The Rolling Stones: Blue and Lonesome
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: November 27, 2016
Read Nat Birchall: Creation Extended Analysis Nat Birchall: Creation
by Phil Barnes
Published: November 23, 2016
Read "Dick's Pick's Volume One: Tampa, Florida 12/19/73" Extended Analysis Dick's Pick's Volume One: Tampa, Florida 12/19/73
by Doug Collette
Published: May 22, 2016
Read "Jack Tempchin: One More Song" Extended Analysis Jack Tempchin: One More Song
by Doug Collette
Published: September 25, 2016
Read "U.K.: Ultimate Collectors' Edition" Extended Analysis U.K.: Ultimate Collectors' Edition
by John Kelman
Published: September 25, 2016
Read "Jim Ridl: Door in a Field V2, Songs of the Green River" Extended Analysis Jim Ridl: Door in a Field V2, Songs of the Green River
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: October 17, 2016
Read "Tender Heart: Songs Of Tom Giacabetti And Melissa Gilstrap" Extended Analysis Tender Heart: Songs Of Tom Giacabetti And Melissa Gilstrap
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: September 27, 2016
Read "Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny" Extended Analysis Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny
by Dave Wayne
Published: May 30, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: Jazz Near You | GET IT  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!