IT'S EASY TO REPHRASE TOLSTOY'S OPENING to Anna Karenina so it describes junkies, who all share an essential plotline: who and how to hustle in order to score. But in the world of postwar jazz, Charlie Parker gave junk an unprecedented clout and artistic aura. Bebop, the convoluted frenetic modern jazz he and Dizzy Gillespie, among others, formulated, demanded intense powers of concentration. Bird played so far out of nearly everyone else's league that his heroin habit seemed to explain his godlike prowess. So heroin became an existentialist response to racism, to artistic rejection, a self-destructive way of saying Fuck You to mainstream America's 1950s mythologies. Parker warned everyone from young Miles Davis to young Chet Baker away from smack, but few heeded him. In 1954, Davis weaned himself from a four-year addiction; in 1988, Baker died after decades of living in Europe as a junkie, found in the street (Did he jump? Was he pushed?) below his Amsterdam hotel window.
Oklahoma-born and California-bred, Baker had one amazing artistic gift: he could apparently hear nearly any piece of music once and then play it. He intuitively spun melodies on his trumpet with a tone critics compared to Bix Beiderbecke's, and spent his long and uneven career relying on that gift and coasting on his remarkable early breaks. In 195 z, Charlie Parker played with him in Los Angeles, giving him instant cachet. When Gerry Mulligan hired him for the famed pianoless quartet that is the quintessential white West Coast Cool band, it made him a jazz star. After a drug bust broke the group up, Baker began singing; his wispy balladeering and Middle America good looks gave him entree to a broader public. During his early 1950s stint with Mulligan, he unbelievably beat Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie to win critics and fans polls; his first album as a vocalist, which featured “My Funny Valentine,” got him lionized on the Today and Tonight shows and in Time. From there on, his life took on a downward bias within a junkie's relentless cycles.
Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker aims to synthesize all the information about the trumpeter and tries to interpret him within the broader contexts of popular culture. Author James Gavin had access to