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Spotlight on Jazz-Chet Baker

June 11, 2011

Chesney Henry “Chet” Baker, Jr. (December 23, 1929 – May 13, 1988) was born and raised in a musical household in Yale, Oklahoma; his father was a professional guitar player. Baker began his musical career singing in a church choir. His father introduced him to brass instruments with a trombone, which was replaced with a trumpet when the trombone proved too large for him.
Baker received some musical education at Glendale Junior High School, but left school at age 16 in 1946 to join the United States Army. He was posted to Berlin where he joined the 298th Army band. Leaving the army in 1948, he studied theory and harmony at El Camino College in Los Angeles. He dropped out in his second year, however, re-enlisting in the army in 1950. Baker once again obtained a discharge from the army to pursue a career as a professional musician. Baker became a member of the Sixth Army Band at the Presidio in San Francisco, but was soon spending time in San Francisco jazz clubs such as Bop City and the Black Hawk.
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 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. 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. Here he is with You Don’t Know What Love Is

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