- James Gavin, Deep in a dream: the long night of Chet Baker, 
which goes well with Bruce Weber’s remarkable film Let’s get lost (for the making of which, do read Deep in a dream, pp.328–42):
Born in 1929, Chet somehow managed to live to the ripe old age of 58—this quote seems tailor-made for him:
If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself!
(Like Daoist ritual texts, this has been diversely attributed—to Eubie Blake, Mae West, Adolph Zukor, and so on.)
We don’t expect any artist to be a paragon of moral virtue—and in jazz, there were few angels. The “straight” WAM scene also had its bad boys—not least, trumpeters.
Before we get onto Chet’s iconic slow ballads, I like his early bebop playing:
And here he is with Charlie Parker in 1952:
I often wish someone would do a study of the styles of Chinese shawm players or Daoist guanzi masters like that of Paul Berliner on instrumentalists in Thinking in jazz. He cites John McNeil’s impressive genealogy (more taxonomy!) of jazz trumpeters (p.137):
But whereas most of the jazz greats (Billie, Bird, Miles, Trane, Bill Evans, and so on), through their similar struggles with addiction, were constantly learning, honing their craft, Chet seems to have been gifted with his dreamy cool style very early, and then traded on his angelic image (largely for substances) for the rest of his surprisingly long life, settling for melancholy—without the constant explorations of the other great jazzers.
Still, taken individually, ignoring the degradation of Chet’s life, his songs are captivating. Apart from his trumpet playing, Chet is one of few male jazz singers I can relate to (that’s my own weakness—the late great Amy Winehouse was devoted to Tony Bennett, for instance); maybe what distinguishes his singing is the way he dispenses with masculine bravado. But the critics are divided: while Chet’s followers revered him as a god, regarding his solos as “models of heartfelt expression, as graceful as a poem”, others were less enchanted, describing him as “a singing corpse”, “a withered goat”, “a hollow-cheeked, toothless, mumbling, all but brain-dead relic”, and “a drug-ravaged ghost” (Deep in a dream, p.5).
But let’s just forget the film, and the book, and wallow. These songs almost add up to a potted biography in themselves:
As with My favorite things, everyone has their favourite versions of My funny Valentine, but this one (live from Turin in 1959  —at the height of Chet’s celebrity in Italy, and just as his substance-abuse was rocketing) is heart-rending:
For versions by Miles, see here.
Another lesson from jazzers in how to use vibrato. And let’s hear it for Lars Gullin on sax…
This next recording (evidently achieved through some editorial sleight-of-hand) contrasts with Bille Holiday’s You’re my thrill—which Chet also sang:
For a sequel, with a yet more informed playlist, see here.
 I also look forward to reading Jeroen de Valk, Chet Baker: his life and music.
 Short of undertaking a global survey, 1959 is widely known as the year of Kind of blue; and in China, for the escalation of famine—still not widely enough known.