During his lifetime, Chet Baker dealt with drug addictions as he traveled the world, never settling very long in one place. Along the way he established himself as one of the premier jazz trumpet players of the second half of the 20th century. He was also unique among his contemporaries as he sang on a number of his albums.
He honed his craft as a member of the United States Army Band during the late 1940s. By 1952 he was a part of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, which made him a star. His music now returns as a part of Concord Music Group’s Very Best Of series, which had been resurrecting classic tracks by many of jazz music’s stars.
The earliest two tracks were taken from his time with Gerry Mulligan, 1952-53. The songs, “My Funny Valentine” and “Moonlight In Vermont,” may be familiar but the interpretations were unique. Saxophonist Mulligan, drummer Chico Hamilton, bassist Carson Smith, and Baker were a unique combination. The interplay by Baker and Mulligan will send almost any listener scurrying for their complete albums together.
The majority of the album focuses upon his most creative and prolific period as 10 of the 14 tracks come from 1958-59. Three tracks from It Could Happen To You are highlights. Two Rodgers and Hart compositions, “Do It The Hard Way” and “My Heart Stood Still,” plus “Old Devil Moon,” are unique vehicles for his trumpet and clear voice. The piano work by Kenny Drew was the perfect accompaniment for his talent.
Two of the more interesting tracks were from his time in Italy during 1959. “Look For The Silver Lining,” with his trumpet and “The Song Is You,” with his voice backed by an orchestra find him in an unusual setting and adapting well.
A couple of tracks from his work with saxophonists Herbie Mann, Pepper Adams, and Zoot Sims are included. “Almost Like Being In Love” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” find the brass soaring of over the piano, bass, and drum foundation, then splitting to go their own way before reuniting.
The two newest tracks are from 1965 when he returned to the U.S. after a number of years in Europe and were considered part of his first comeback. This time it is sax player George Coleman who is his partner. Together they usher in a new phase of his career as “Have You Met Miss Jones” and “When You’re Gone” find him as an accomplished flugelhorn player.
Baker died at the age of 58 when he fell, jumped, or was possibly pushed from his Amsterdam hotel window. He left behind an interesting catalogue of music that may be somewhat overlooked at times today but is well worth exploring. The Very Best Of Chet Baker provides a nice introduction to his music.