#83: Summer Soundtrack III
If you’re like me you don’t mind pretending you’re living your life, scene by scene, as if you’re starring in an old Woody Allen picture. This means that, sometimes, you listen to jazz.
Now, I’m in no position to be making a peep about jazz. But did you know that I received a Bachelor of Music from NYU (and what on Earth am I supposed to do with it?)? I’ve also dated my fair share of “jazz kids” (don’t cry for me). I like to pretend I have a working knowledge of the genre, at least enough to scoot by in a half-baked conversation. Dolphy? Sure. Mingus? Oh yeah. Ayler? Ok. But I haven’t really gotten into much of it. I have a my favorites, about as many as I can count on five little fingers.
The favorite is Chet Baker: the bad-boy, the meloncholy crooner, the scandalous serenader, 1950’s cool at its… coolest.
Chet’s smoldering good looks and sultry voice set him apart from other jazz artists of the era. When Hollywood came knocking, after starring in one film Baker declined to sign a contract in favor of living a musician’s life on the road.
A heroin addict since the 1950’s, Chet’s career began to dip as early as the 1960’s. As a result of his drug use, his front teeth rotted and he eventually learned to play his trumpet with dentures.
Here’s Chet in 1964 performing, without his two front teeth, Time After Time.
Chet continued to record and perform throughout the late 1970’s and 80’s, mostly in Europe on a lesser scale to a smaller audience. At the height of his “comeback” in the late 80’s, during which some say that he reached his creative peak, he was found dead on the sidewalk beneath his second-story hotel room in Amsterdam. Heroin and cocaine were found in the room.
For some, tragedy is part of evolution and part of their success. Baker’s voice probably would not have been so singularly memorable or touching without him having experienced so much of it. His ability to translate his tragedy into cool, seductive and poppy jazz tunes makes for some of the most transporting music in my record collection. Join me for a Tom Collins or a Singapore Sling in the lounge? Let’s get lost.