I still remember the first time I heard a Chet Baker LP. One of my college roommates put a jazz record on the turntable in our house. As a newcomer to jazz, I at least knew it was some trumpet player. A couple tunes in, I heard a vocalist.
"Who's the singer," I asked, fully expecting to hear the name of a female vocalist. "That's Chet Baker, the trumpet player," I was told.
While that isn't the way you would expect to discover a jazz trumpet player, it may be the way Chet Baker's name became known to any number of people who weren't familiar with his work in the 1950s and 1960s. And while Riverside Profiles: Chet Baker, a collection of his recordings for the Riverside label in 1958 and 1959, gives listeners a chance to hear Baker sing, it puts most of its focus on his trumpet playing.
Baker was one of the artists who helped create what would be called "West Coast jazz." That subgenre tended to incorporate elements of swing with the growing "cool school" of jazz that had its roots in bebop. With sunglasses, good looks and his swept back hair, Baker was the epitome of cool. More important, not only did he have the chops to play the bop elements that still appeared in the cool school, he had the ability to provide a lyrical, laid back style with his trumpet.
The former is represented on Riverside Profiles: Chet Baker by "Fair Weather," originally released on 1958's Chet Baker in New York. It reflects the somewhat harder and more bop-oriented East Coast sound. That is due in part to the presence of bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones, members of the Miles Davis Quintet. Yet while "Fair Weather" may not be closer to the East Coast sound than West Coast jazz, it has enough of Baker's influences. More important, it reflects Baker's talents as a trumpet player, one who in fact played with Charlie Parker when he was starting out. Baker's excellent trumpet work is bolstered by Johnny Griffin's tenor sax performance.
Closer to typical up-tempo West Coast sound is "Almost Like Being in Love," from 1959's Chet Baker Plays the Best of Lerner and Loewe. Responding to other jazz artists releasing renditions of Broadway show tunes, Baker turns this song from the musical "Brigadoon" into an almost quintessential mix of elements of cool, bop and swing. This displays not only true West Coast jazz sounds but also the bop roots of the school. Once again, Baker's performance is highly upbeat and its edge is reinforced by the work of a trio of saxophonists, Herbie Mann on tenor, Zoot Sims on alto and the hard-driving Pepper Adams on baritone.