The Best of Chet Baker
Chet Baker is one of THE most misunderstood jazz artists of the 20th century, hands down. Unfairly cast by the jazzbo critical elite as kind of a Justin Bieber of the trumpet — all doe-eyed looks and no style, forgotten by the pop mainstream as little more than a lightweight restaurant music provider or a pop crooner, and resolutely ignored by all but the very most of the clued-in of the younger music listening populace. Hell, it’s enough to drive one to heroin, much less poor doomed Chet. AND YET what they’re all missing is his beautiful, lyrical voice — an androgynous hybrid of a hymnal angel and a falsetto ache that gave voice to a hollowness and pain inside him the likes of which most are fortunate enough not to know. That same “voice” was also ever-present in his trumpet playing: contemplative, lyrical, not-showy, and dedicated to the spaces in the music. Baker wasn’t a lightweight; he had a deep, intuitive sense of bop swing and played with guys like Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz. And his singing, for real, is one of the ten greatest hidden highlights of music. Period. People are going to keep coming back to mordant gems like “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “The Thrill Is Gone” for decades to come.
The reissue itself is sort of on the chintzy side — it ain’t no Impulse reissue, that’s for damn sure. The liner notes are chintzy on content and photos, and the track listing leaves something to be desired. (No “You Don’t Know What Love Is?” An instrumental version of “My Funny Valentine” instead of the epochal/apocalyptic vocal take?) There are way too few of his truly great vocal performances in favor of peppier cuts and swing and at the expense of untrammeled beauty. You can see some of what made the likes of Elvis Costello and others eternal acolytes, but not nearly enough. And yet, especially given the unforgiving tangle of his musical estate, more Chet Baker on the shelves is always a good thing.