Chet Baker Biography

(Trumpeter and Vocalist Known for Major Innovations in 'Cool Jazz')

Birthday: December 23, 1929 (Capricorn)

Born In: Yale, Oklahoma, United States

Chesney Henry Baker Jr. was an American singer and jazz trumpeter who rose to fame with his classic song ‘My Funny Valentine.’ Chet started his career in his 40s and made a mark immediately after joining ‘Gerry Mulligan Quarter’ in 1952. He released many jazz numbers, such as ‘Walkin’ Shoes,’ Bernie’s Tune,’ and ‘My Funny Valentine’ with Gerry. In the same year, he also had an opportunity to play with Charlie Parker. All through the 50s, Chet produced albums, such as ‘It Could Happen to You’ and ‘Chet Baker Sings.’ As much as he was loved and admired for his talent, his addiction to heroin was also not hidden from anyone. His drug addiction almost destroyed his career and ultimately killed him. He was arrested several times for drug-related offences. He even pawned his music instruments and took a lot of beating by a mob, before deciding to take control of his life and returning to music around the 70s. After his comeback, he created a lot of meaningful music. He died on May 13, 1988, of an apparent fall from the window of his hotel room in Amsterdam.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Chesney Henry Baker Jr.

Died At Age: 58


Spouse/Ex-: Charlene Souder, Halema Alli, Carol Baker (m. 1965–1988)

father: Chesney H. Baker Sr.

mother: Vera Baker

children: Chesney Aftab Baker, Dean Baker, Missy Baker, Paul Baker

Born Country: United States

Vocalists Jazz Musicians

Died on: May 13, 1988

place of death: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Cause of Death: Accidental Fall

Ancestry: Norwegian American

U.S. State: Oklahoma

Childhood & Early Life
Chesney Henry Baker Jr. was born on December 23, 1929, in Yale, Oklahoma, to Chesney and Vera Baker. His father was a professional guitar player, and mother was a pianist.
Due to the ‘Great Depression,’ his father had to quit music and take a conventional job to feed his family. However, that didn’t stop Chet from developing interest in music from an early age.
He sang for the first time in a Church choir. He fell in love with the trumpet after his father taught him about brass instruments. Playing musical instruments and making music came naturally to him.
Chest attended ‘Glendale Junior High School’ for a while, but dropped out at the age of 16 to join the United States Army. He attended ‘El Camino College’ in Los Angeles to study theory and harmony but dropped again in his second year to enlist in the Army in San Francisco.
He started playing Jazz music in various clubs in San Francisco. In 1951, he finally decided to pursue music as a profession.
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Early Career
During the beginning of his career, Chet collaborated with saxophonist Stan Getz from Vido Musso’s band. In 1952, he got an opportunity to play with the great jazz artist, Charlie Parker, at the ‘West Coast’ engagements.
On May 19, 1952, Chet made his debut at the ‘Tiffany Club’ in Los Angeles. Thereafter, his career started blooming.
In 1952, he joined ‘Gerry Mulligan Quartet,’ a group that played baritone sax, trumpet, bass, and drums. His hit song ‘My Funny Valentine’ was the result of this association. Unfortunately, the group disbanded a year later as the group’s leader was arrested on a drug charge in June, 1953.
Baker wasted no time in forming ‘The Chet Baker Quartlet’ with composer and pianist Russ Freeman and other mates. They released many albums together, and were quite a success.
In 1956, he released his successful album ‘Chet Baker Sings.’ Around this time, Baker beat jazz greats, such as Miles Davis and Clifford Brown to become the most popular trumpeter in the country.
In 1955, his love for acting combined with good looks got him an opportunity to make film debut in the film ‘Hell’s Horizon.’ He also lent his vocals to his extraordinary ability to play trumpet, and the result was astounding!
He became a ‘West Coast Sensation’ with people naturally drawing toward his good looks and talent. Clearly, his delicate vocals, set with his jazz music worked like magic.
In 1956, he went on a tour of Europe and ended up recording an album about it. The album was named ‘Chet Baker in Europe.’
In 1960, he acted in another film ‘Howlers in the Dock.’ While he became a jazz icon in the mid 50s, his addiction to heroin affected his flourishing career in the late 50s.
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Drug Addiction
In 1957, his addiction to heroin became public. In his biography, ‘Chet Baker, His Life and Music,’ by Jereon de Valk, it was stated that he was on drugs since the early 50s.
His former group members revealed that Baker often pawned his own instruments to buy drugs. Starting 1960, Chet landed into jail many a time because of his drug addiction habits.
He spent almost a year in prison in Italy. He got into a lot of trouble in West Germany and England before being deported to the US.
He settled in North Carolina and played in small gigs between serving his short terms in the jail. He recorded five albums within three days after his return, but his work had lost the old charm, or so it seemed to the critics.
In 1966, he faced utter disgust and hatred from several people who beat him brutally after a gig in California. He was attempting to buy drugs around that time. He was so severely beaten that his front teeth got broken to the point that he couldn’t play his trumpet for a while. He returned to music again after three months to play in New York City.
Later Career
He moved to New York City and started performing with guitarist Jim Hall. In 1970, he went to Europe and until his death performed exclusively for his European audience.
During this phase of his life, Baker grew a lot as an artist. His work was well received by critics and people, even though, commercially, it was never a success.
From the early 80s, he was hired by British singer Elvis Costello for his songs. Baker played in songs, such as ‘Shipbuilding’ and ‘Almost Blue.’
His last album ‘Chet Baker in Tokyo’ was released after his death in 1988.
Awards & Achievements
In 1954, he was voted as the ‘Top Jazz Vocalist,’ by ‘Downbeat.’ In 1987, he was inducted into ‘Jazz Hall of Fame’ as well as the ‘Big Band.’
In 1988, his documentary, ‘Let’s Get Lost’ received an ‘Academy Award’ nomination. In 1989, he became the top jazz artist in the US after he was elected to ‘Jazz Hall of Fame,’ by ‘Down Beat.’
In 1991, he was inducted into ‘Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.’
In 2007, the mayor of Tulsa announced December 23 to be observed as ‘Cher Baker Day.’
On October 10, 2015, ‘Chet Baker Jazz Festival’ was inaugurated in the honour of Chet Baker, in Yale, Oklahoma.
In 2016, his biopic ‘Born to be Blue’ was released in theatres.
Personal Life
On May 13, 1988, Chet was found dead on the street below his hotel room in Amsterdam. It was suspected that he died of a fall from the window of his second-floor hotel room.
The police found heroin and cocaine in his room.
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