CHET BAKER QUINTETTE-CHET BAKER QUINTETTE.

CHET BAKER QUINTETTE-CHET BAKER QUINTETTE.

Chet Baker’s big break came when he joined Charlie Parker’s band at the Tiffany Club, in Los Angeles. That was in May 1952, when Chet was just twenty-three. Even then, it was widely recognized that Chet Baker was a prodigious talent. A great future was forecast for the former member of the 298th Army Band. No wonder. Whether it was trumpet, flugelhorn, piano or as a vocalist Chet Baker, the James Dean of jazz delighted audiences.  

Capable of spellbinding performances, it’s no wonder Chet Baker was one of the most sought after sidemen. He played with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and then, Bird. Soon, Chet was heading out on his own. He signed to Pacific Jazz in 1954, the year he released Chet Baker Sings. Suddenly, Chet’s music found a wider audience. However, while Chet was enjoying critical acclaim and commercial success, a dark shadow hung over him.

Like many jazz musicians, Chet Baker lived life to the full. He realised he was only here for a visit and lived life to the fullest. Sometimes, this caught up with him. Chet had first taken heroin in the fifties. Sadly, he never could shake the habit. It was like an itch he couldn’t scratch. This resulted in Chet’s life becoming chaotic. During the fifties, Chet was imprisoned several times in America. Then in 1960, Chet spent eighteen months in an Italian prison. He released a comeback album in 1962, Chet Is Back! That proved an ironic title. 

Later in 1962, Chet headed to West Germany, where he was arrested. This lead to him being expelled to Switzerland, France and then in August 1962, England, where he appeared in the movie The Stolen Hours. Chet was then deported to France after being found guilty of a drug offence. France was home to Chet for a while. Then he headed to Spain and West Germany. Then his lifestyle caught up with him again. He was deported from West Germany to America and returned home in March 1964. 

Back home, Chet flitted between New York and Los Angeles, where he played live. Chet didn’t have a record deal. Recent releases had been albums of outtakes Pacific Jazz sold to Modern Jazz. After all, West Coast jazz was yesterday’s news. People wondered whether Chet Baker was yesterday’s news? So when Chet signed a deal with Crown Records, they wondered whether the years of hard living had affected Chet? They awaited the release of the Chet Baker Quintette’s eponymous album. Chet Baker Quintette which was recently rereleased by Boplicity, an imprint of Ace Records marked the comeback of a jazz giant. Was it a successful comeback? Before I tell you that, I’ll tell you about the tumultuous life of Chet Baker.

Chet Baker was born at the height of the depression. It was November 1929. His father Chesney, a professional guitarist, struggled to find work during the depression and ended up working a series of dead end jobs. His mother Vera, a talented pianist, worked in a perfume factory. Chet’s first exposure to music came through singing in the church choir. Then his father bought Chet a trombone. It proved too cumbersome, so was exchanged for a trumpet, which became Chet’s instrument of choice. Indeed, it was playing the trumpet that Chet found fame.

Having left Glendale Junior High School, where Chet had some musical education, he joined the US Army in 1946. He was just sixteen. His first posting was Berlin, where he became a member of the 298th Army Band. Two years later, Chet’s spell in the army was over. 

Heading home, Chet started a two year course in musical theory and composition at Camino College, Los Angeles. Chet didn’t finish the course. Instead, he dropped out in the second year, and in 1950, rejoined the US Army. That didn’t last long. Soon, Chet was spending more time in San Francisco’s jazz clubs. Luckily, Chet received a discharge from the army and his career as a professional musician began,

It was as a member of Vido Musso’s band, that Chet made his professional debut. This was in 1951. Soon, Chet found himself playing with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. Straight away, he clicked Gerry. It was as if they were musical soul mates, who knew what the other was about to play. Playing with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet lead to Chet playing with Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and then, Charlie Parker in May 1952, at  the Tiffany Club, Los Angeles. That made people sit up and take notice. Over the next two years, Chet’s star shawn bright. So it was no surprise he headed out on his own.

Signing to Pacific Jazz in 1954, Chet’s debut was 1954s Chet Baker Sings. Chet Baker and Strings followed later in 1954. Soon, Chet was cutting two albums a year. They were a mixture of studio and live albums. The Trumpet Artistry Of Chet Baker was released in 1955. For the next few years, touring, collaboration and soundtracks kept Chet busy. He toured Europe and released Chet Baker In Europe in 1956. Little did anyone know it, but this was the most consistent and productive period of his career. Ironically, in 1957, Chet provided part of the soundtrack to The James Dean Story. 

The irony is, that Chet already had a reputation as one of jazz’s rebels. Chet liked living life fast. This wasn’t a joie de vivre. No. It was something darker and more destructive. During the fifties, Chet had tried heroin. He was hooked. Despite this, he released well received albums. Among them were like 1956s Chet Baker Sings, 1957s Big Band and Grey December. 1958s Chet Baker Sings: It Could Happen To You and In New York both found Chet in form. However, when Chet left Pacific Jazz, where he recorded some of the best music of his career, things started to go wrong.

When Chet left Pacific Jazz, they sold unused recordings to Modern Jazz. Essentially, they were outtakes. West Coast jazz was yesterday’s news. So when these recordings were repackaged and released as albums, Chet wasn’t exactly painted in the best light. That’s all he needed.

During the fifties, Chet was imprisoned several times in America. Then during his five year spell in Europe, Chet spent eighteen months in an Italian prison. He was jailed in 1960 and released in 1962. To celebrate, he released a comeback album in 1962, Chet Is Back! That proved ironic. 

Later in 1962, Chet headed to West Germany, where he was arrested. This lead to him being expelled to Switzerland, France and then in August 1962, England, where he appeared in the movie The Stolen Hours. Chet was then deported to France after being convicted of a drug offense. France was then home to Chet for a while. Then he headed to Spain and West Germany. Sadly, his lifestyle caught up with him again. He was deported from West Germany to America and returned home in March 1964. This proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Now home in America, Chet played live in New York and Los Angeles. He also signed for Crown Records and started work on Chet Baker Quintette. It featured six tracks, three of which were written by Phil Urso. He penned Extra Mild, Halema and Luscious Lou. Al Haig wrote Jimpin’ Off A Clif and Bill Loughborough wrote Pawnee Junction. Chet cowrote The Route with Art Pepper and Richie Kamuca. These six songs became Chet Baker Quintette.

Recording of Chet Baker Quintette featured a rhythm section of bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Peter Littman. They were joined by pianist Bobby Timmons, tenor saxophonist Phil Uros and Bill Loughborough on timpani. This was the band that played on five of the tracks. Chet played trumpet and added vocals. A different band played on The Route. The bad featured drummer Leroy Vinnegar, pianist Stan Levey, alto saxophonist Pete Jolly and tenor saxophonists Art Pepper and Richie Kamuca. When the two bands finished recording Chet Baker Quintette, it was released in 1964.

Opening Chet Baker Quintette, is Extra Mild. It has an understated, carefree sound as if unfolds. Soon, the arrangement is propelled along by the rhythm section, while the horns carry the melody. The band are a tight, talented unit who seem to second guess each other. They appear to know what the other is about play. This really helps. Especially when it gets to the solos. Chet’s still able to carry a tune. His chops don’t seem to have been affected by his years of hard living. He sets the bar high and the rest of the band don’t disappoint. Pianist Bobby Timmons deserves a special mention. So does drummer Peter Littman and saxophonist Phil Urso. They play their back in the second coming of Chet Baker.

Halema, like the previous track was penned by Phil Uros. Slow, with a soul-searching, melancholy sound, it’s perfect late-night listening. Especially, for the newly brokenhearted. The horns plaintive cry is full of hurt and sadness. It’s as if it’s asking why, why me? Pathos gives way to poignant and beauty in four minutes of music. This proves Chet as a trumpeter and bandleader still has what it takes.

Jumpin’ Off A Cliff is very different from the previous track. The band come out of traps at breakneck speed. Horns blaze and bray, cascading urgently over the arrangement. It’s driven along by the rhythm section and piano. It fills the gaps with flamboyant flourishes. However, it’s the horns that have your attention. Along with Bobby Timmons’ piano, they play starring roles. When Chet steps forward to unleash his solo, the band can be heard in the background encouraging him on. After that, Bobby Timmons, bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Peter Littman unleash a series of spellbinding solos. It’s as if they don’t want to let Chet down. They don’t and join together to bring they track to a dramatic crescendo. 

The Route features the other version of the Chet Baker Quintette. Chet’s part of a three piece front line. This includes tenor saxophonists Art Pepper and Richie Kamuca. Pete Jolly’s the other part of the horn section, playing alto saxophone.  Here, the arrangement driven along the bass before Stan Levey’s piano enters. Soon, the horns take centre-stage. Then when it’s Chet’s time to step forward and deliver a solo, he plays thoughtfully and within himself. Despite his problems, Chet doesn’t seem out of place. He holds his own, as if relishing the opportunity to share the same studio with such talented musicians. It’s as if this rubs off, bringing out the best in one of jazz’s wayward sons.

Luscious Lou is third and final song penned by tenor saxophonist Phil Uros. He and Chet work well together, producing a slinky, sometimes swinging track. In the background, the band can be heard. It seems they’re enjoying the session and as a result, play freely and fluidly. When the solos arrive, the rhythm section show what they’re capable of. Then the horns take charge, they don’t disappoint. Playing within themselves, the arrangement meanders along to a flamboyant finale.

Pawnee Junction closes sees Chet Baker Quintette. Here, the band play their way into the track. They seem to jam, as if looking for an “in.” When they find it, they’re off. The horns carry the melody, while the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Driving the arrangement along with the piano, everyone is playing their part. There’s no passengers. Chet indulges in some showboating. So Bill Loughborough on timpani. Next up is the rhythm section and piano. They play together, never missing a beat. Sometimes, Latin and Afro Cuban influence makes an appearance. Then the arrangement becomes a dramatic, joyous, flamboyant and uplifting, like a call to dance. That seems a fitting way for the Chet Baker Quintette to take their bow.

On the release of Chet Baker Quintette, it sank without trace. The problem was, Crown Records released it on one of their budget imprints. This meant the second coming of Chet Baker went unnoticed. That’s a great shame. After all, jazz’s wayward sons was neither washed up, nor yesterday’s news. Chet was still able to carry a tune. His chops don’t seem to have been affected by his years of hard living. He sets the bar high and the rest of the band don’t disappoint on Chet Baker Quintette. 

That’s no surprise. Chet had worked with the same musicians before. They’d been by his side for what proved to be some his finest moments. Chet Baker Quintette saw Chet draw inspiration from these glory days. He dug deep, and pulled off a series of solos that showed just what he was capable. If you wanted drama, emotion, joy or heartache, Chet would give you it and then some. Sadly, Chet Baker Quintette which marked a return to form for the James Dean of jazz passed everyone by..until now. 

Boplicity, an imprint of Ace Records, have just rereleased Chet Baker Quintette. This reissue comes with sleeve-notes from Dean Rudland. The rerelease of Chet Baker Quintette allows a new generation of music fans to hear one of Chet Baker’s lost albums. Chet Baker Quintette marks a return to form for Chet Baker, jazz’s wayward son and marks his second coming.

CHET BAKER QUINTETTE-CHET BAKER QUINTETTE.

1 Comment

  1. A wonderful period in jazz. Unfortunately for West Coast jazzmen, most LA clientele were more interested in the Hoochy Coochy Man. What always impressed me about Chet was the sheer, blind, unthinking talent he had. No matter how far back you go Chet was always good, like Art Pepper, really. If ever they invent a time machine I’ll be off to the Lighthouse in the fifties.

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