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 singer.
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. He declined an offer of a studio contract, preferring life on the road as a musician. Over the next few years, Baker fronted his own combos, including a 1955 quintet featuring Francy Boland, where Baker combined playing trumpet and singing.