Chet Baker

Chet Baker

The Art of the Ballad


Chet Baker is famous for the same wrong reasons that plague Morrison, Cobain, or for that matter, Rimbaud. He lived hard, took drugs, and died in squalor, and for this, he appears in Gen-X ads and movies. Not for the haunting ache of his trumpet, a sound as blue as the middle of the night, or for his infrequent but captivating vocals (two of which, “I’m Old Fashioned” and “My Heart Stood Still” are presented here) but rather for the more sordid weaknesses that he was never able to truly shake. This is a shame, because it trivializes the art he created. But on the other hand, if his legend can interest someone enough to try his music, then perhaps all those nights of pain he must have endured, the scarring of the soul that he managed to convey from the golden bell of his trumpet meant something.

The music presented here is from the late ’50s to the mid-’60s, and captures Baker — never really a speedster to begin with — in a flowing, mellow mood. But even ballads, some of the more “pretty” music penned, can moan and catch your breath in Baker’s hands. His take on “My Old Flame,” for instance, can almost make you wince, ’tis so real and emotional. You feel the heartbreak of his reflection on loves lost, and while you might not agree with it, you can understand the pain that might have driven him in self-destructive ways, in an attempt to blot out the beauty he let slip away.

For whatever reason you find him, find Chet Baker. If you like this disc, then move up to the boxed set on Pacific, four discs of mellow heaven that depict a legacy of beauty and a life of torment. Chet Baker wasn’t cool because he fell out of a window, and Cobain wasn’t cool because he joined “that stupid club.” They were cool because they had no way to hide their fears, and the genius that fear gave them is in every note they played.

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