Chesney Henry “Chet” Baker Jr. was raised in a musical household in Oklahoma (his father was a guitar player), and coming of age in Southern California during the bebop era of jazz, Baker found success as a trumpet player in 1951 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. Baker became famous on the strength of his solo on their recording of “My Funny Valentine” a piece he was later said to “own”. The Quartet, however, lasted less than a year because of Mulligan's arrest on drug charges.
In 1954, Baker won the Downbeat Jazz Poll, beating Miles Davis among others. Over the next few years, Baker fronted his own combo, playing trumpet and singing. He became an icon of the west coast “cool school” of jazz, helped by his good looks and singing talent. By the early 1960s, Baker had begun playing the fluegelhorn, as well.
In 1966, Baker allegedly was severely beaten after a gig in San Francisco, sustaining severe cuts on the lips and broken front teeth, thus ruining his embouchure. Accounts of the incident vary, largely because of his lack of reliable testimony on the matter. From that time he had to learn to play with dentures, an almost impossible process for a brass player.
Between 1966 and 1974, Baker mostly played flugelhorn, with its wider mouthpiece, and recorded what must be considered slick mood music. He eventually moved to New York City and began recording again in earnest with other well known jazz musicians such as Jim Hall.
Baker recorded extensively throughout his career. As a result, his discography is considered widely uneven. However, some of Baker's European recordings, made near the end of his career, reveal a more mature and, at times, brilliant talent with simplicity and depth beyond his previous work.
Near the end of Baker's life, he resided and played almost exclusively in Europe, returning to the USA about once a year for a few performance dates.
Ubuntu Music has been granted the exclusive rights to releasing a series of recordings from 1983 that Chet made in London, at the Canteen Club. He is accompanied by the John Horler Trio, with Horler on piano, Jim Richardson on bass and Tony Mann on drums. This is one of the only known series of Chet performing live in London. The aptly titled, 'Live in London', is a two CD set and was released in late 2016 to worldwide critical acclaim. A follow-up two CD release is scheduled for Autumn 2018.
Chet Baker: "Let's Get Lost" Documentary (extract)