Chet Baker CDs Reveal Much More Than Leader of 'Cool' School of Jazz

By Norman Weinstein, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Chet Baker CDs Reveal Much More Than Leader of 'Cool' School of Jazz


Norman Weinstein, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


He had the dashing good looks of James Dean, his contemporary. His jazz recordings with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan sold well in the 1950s - and are still popular among jazz fans today. He was enigmatic, this most spellbinding jazz trumpeter, unable to read a note of music, yet able to improvise complex harmonic lines with the most sophisticated jazzmen of the century. What was the key to Chet Baker's jazz, and why does his popularity, nine years after his death, continue to grow?

With due respect to my colleagues in the music criticism business, let me suggest that most critics have rigidly and inaccurately stereotyped the artist. Baker has been described in countless articles as a leader of the "cool" school of jazz, meaning that he loved conventional Tin Pan Alley melodies. He played them in a softly modulated tone suggesting bittersweet angst, in an easy-going style bridging swing and bop.

Four new Baker CDs certainly offer a glimpse of that sound - but that is only a fraction of what they do reveal. West Coast Live (Pacific Jazz) is an intriguing two-disc set of largely previously unreleased live recordings by Baker with the saxophonist Stan Getz from the '50s. Anyone interested in this fascinating mismatch of jazz greats should purchase this set and avoid Stan Meets Chet (Verve), a studio session marked by Baker's descent into a drug-induced fit of sour notes and phlegmatic phrasing. Note that "West Coast Live" still chronicles a mismatch. Baker favors short trumpet phrases, tart and probing commentaries upon old standards like "Yesterdays" and "All the Things You Are." Getz, on the other hand, executes long and sinewy, velvet-toned lines. Their interactions are minimal; they basically keep out of each other's way. And yet their very lack of connection seems to bring out a measure of imaginative aggression in their exciting solos. They could be drivingly hard swingers, even with material as perennially and unseasonably corny as "Winter Wonderland." Their soaring energy on Gershwin's "Strike Up the Band," a tune rarely heard in jazz today, is positively sensational.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Chet Baker CDs Reveal Much More Than Leader of 'Cool' School of Jazz
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?