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Chet Baker

December 20, 2000

Historian's Notes

When you say the name Chet Baker, you are not only saying the name of a Yale, OK native, but also naming one of the greatest figures in American Jazz. He was a true visionary and master musician with a style all his own. Baker's story is uplifting in a way, showing that it doesn't matter where you come from or your background, with talent and drive you can do anything that you want. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line Chet Baker became a drug addict and died as a result. What a loss! Do yourself a favor and listen to some Chet Baker today. I prefer his earliest or later stuff, the middle part of his catalog gets a little shaky, in my opinion.

Resources

Couch, E. (1999). Oklahoma trivia. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press.

Additional information was found on a number of Internet sites as well as from interviews with one-time acquaintances of Mr. Baker.

Almanac Transcript

Hello, I'm Steven Kite welcoming you to the Oklahoma Audio Almanac where we turn the pages of history to bring you the stories of our state's past.

Many people are aware that the name Chet Baker is synonymous with cool west-coast jazz, most people donít know that he was born on December 23rd, 1929 in Yale, Oklahoma. For many years the trumpet playing Baker was regarded as one of the supreme players on the jazz scene. Entering the army at the age of eighteen young Baker was a member of the 298th Army Band. It was while in the military that Chet was introduced to the sounds and rhythms of west-coast jazz and participated in numerous jam sessions with the likes of Charlie Parker and Paul Desmond. Baker was an extraordinary trumpet player and could quickly pick up the most difficult of rhythms and progressions, modifying them and improving them at a moments notice. Wherever he played he was noticed and soon was invited to join various jazz combos and recording sessions.

Following his release from the military, Baker moved to Los Angeles where he sat in on numerous recording sessions and began playing regularly with the famous Gerry Mulligan Quartet. Once given a proper venue in which to showcase his talent the genius of Chet Baker became known world-wide. He was twice given a number one position in the popularity polls of both Down Beat and Metronome magazines. When Gerry Mulligan retired Chet took over leadership of the group now called The Chet Baker Quartet. The group embarked on an eight month tour of European clubs, the longest European tour yet made by an American jazz group. It was during this tour that drug use, and the hazards thereof, disrupted the progress of Baker. On the European tour Bakerís piano player died of a drug overdose and Baker himself was arrested and charged with heroin possession.

From the mid-fifties on Chet Bakerís life was one of constant struggle against heroin addiction. Strung out and living on the streets of Europe for most of the sixties, Chet attempted an unsuccessful comeback in the latter part of that decade. The mid-seventies saw a much improved Baker back in control, rehearsing, recording and touring extensively once again. Sadly, in 1988 Baker died in a fall from a window in his Amsterdam his hotel room. Some authorities claimed a disoriented Baker jumped from his window, some cite evidence that he was pushed, while still others claim that Baker having locked himself out, was climbing up the wall towards his window and fell. Regardless of the reason, the world that day lost a musical genius and a giant in the world of jazz.

Yale, Oklahoma native Chet Baker born this week in 1929.

I'm Steven Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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