Chet Baker—too cool, indeed

Chet Baker: Too Cool

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I was going to write about jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman this week, but yesterday a package arrived from my friend Picture Boy [A.K.A. Rich Meyer of Swell Advertising in St. Louis, the guy who designed the Blue Kitchen masthead for me]. In it was this wonderful CD.

The fifteen tracks on this disk, a mix of instrumentals and vocals, all come from the 1950s, when Baker was at the top of his game and helping define the West Coast style of jazz. While I’m generally a bigger fan of New York’s be-bop and hard bop sound from the same era, there is something undeniably cool about the West Coast sound, especially as practiced on these tracks.

Baker’s trumpet playing helps me understand what Picture Boy means when he talks about the warmth of the trumpet. A lot of beautiful solos on this collection—as with most West Coast jazz, they invite you into the groove rather than challenging you to keep up as be-bop sometimes does.

And then there are the vocals. Sweet, wispy, quiet. I listen to a lot of college radio here [Chicago commercial radio pretty much universally sucks, but that’s a topic for another time]. I once heard a jazz DJ on Northwestern University’s WNUR introduce a Chet Baker tune this way: “Some people don’t think Chet Baker had a great singing voice. Well, they’re wrong.” What a perfect statement. No explanations, no apologies. This disk includes his signature tune, My Funny Valentine—it is indeed wonderful. But for my money, his take on But Not For Me outshines it.

The disk, produced by Starbucks’ Hear Music, is a visual treat too. The 16-page liner notes booklet includes moody black and white photos that showcase Baker’s “matinee idol” looks before his ongoing heroin addiction ravaged him. And they give you plenty of background both on the music and the artist.

Too Cool, too cool. Thanks, PB.

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