Chet Baker

Gift guide

Jazz Sides

Chet Baker

Prince of Cool (EMI)

Chet Baker may still be a controversial figure. It certainly took a long time for me to make up my mind about him. When I was exposed to jazz in the mid-Fifties, it was as a fan of robust hard bop, musicians like Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown. The popular West Coast jazz of that time seemed to lack vigor and as a whole was less progressive. Baker was suspect because his trumpet playing was so quiet and introverted; it seemed to lack strength. But after listening to him for years I had to admit that he had a rich melodic imagination, putting his solos together smoothly and swinging gracefully. I grew to like his small, velvety tone, and eventually came to the conclusion that he was an original and admirable performer. The recordings on this 3-CD set, cut 1952-57, catch Baker at his peak, when he was one of the most in-demand jazzmen in the world. Interestingly, the first CD features his singing; he may've been an even more popular vocalist than trumpeter. He specialized in shy ballad performances, displaying an unusually high voice. He articulated lyrics clearly and with heartfelt emotion. His choice of tunes was interesting, too; here he sings some lovely, seldom-heard songs like "Grey December" and "Let's Get Lost." On the second CD, Baker appears as a group leader; on the third he's featured as a sideman, playing with Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, Bobby Timmons, Stan Getz, and Russ Freeman. They improvise near the top of their games, as does Baker, contributing darting, quicksilver work at medium- and up-tempos and warm ballad solos. Overall, this is both a strong introduction to Chet Baker as well as a fine sampling of West Coast cool jazz.


A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Music Reviews
Review: Alex Coke & Carl Michel Sextet, <i>EMERGENCE</i>
Review: Alex Coke & Carl Michel Sextet, EMERGENCE
EMERGENCE (Record Review)

Michael Toland, May 12, 2023

Fall Platters
Jeff Lofton
Jericho (Record Review)

Michael Toland, Nov. 29, 2019

More by Harvey Pekar
Hey, Emily
Hey, Emily

Aug. 8, 2008

Better Git It in Your Soul
Better Git It in Your Soul
Charles Mingus Among Us

June 16, 2006

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle