Chesney Henry “Chet” Baker Jr. (born Yale, Oklahoma,
December 23, 1929 – died Amsterdam, Netherlands May 13,
1988) was an American jazz trumpeter, flugelhorn player and
Specializing in relaxed, even melancholy music, Baker rose
to prominence as a leading name in cool jazz in the 1950s.
Baker’s good looks and smoldering, intimate singing voice
established him as a promising name in pop music as well.
But his success was badly hampered by drug addiction,
particularly in the 1960s, when he was imprisoned.
He died in 1988 after falling from a hotel window.
Baker’s earliest notable professional gigs were with
saxophonist Vido Musso’s band, and also with tenor
saxophonist Stan Getz, though he earned much more renown in
1952 when he was chosen by Charlie Parker to play with him
for a series of West Coast engagements.
In 1952, Baker joined the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, which was
an instant phenomenon. Several things made the
Mulligan/Baker group special, the most prominent being the
interplay between Mulligan’s baritone sax and Baker’s
trumpet. Rather than playing identical melody lines in
unison like bebop giants Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie,
the two would complement each other’s playing with
contrapuntal touches, and it often seemed as if they had
telepathy in anticipating what the other was going to play
next. The Quartet’s version of “My Funny Valentine”,
featuring a memorable Baker solo, was a major hit, and
became a song with which Baker was intimately associated.
The Quartet found success quickly, but lasted less than a
year because of Mulligan’s arrest and imprisonment on drug
charges. In 1954, Baker won the Downbeat Jazz Poll. In 1953,
Pacific Jazz released Chet Baker Sings, a record that
increased his profile but alienated traditional jazz fans;
he would continue to sing throughout his career.Baker formed
quartets with Russ Freeman in 1953-54 with bassists Carson
Smith, Joe Mondragon, and Jimmy Bond and drummers Shelly
Manne, Larry Bunker, and Bob Neel. The quartet was
successful in their three live sets in 1954. Because of his
chiseled features, Hollywood studios approached Baker and he
made his acting debut in the film Hell’s Horizon, released
in the fall of 1955.