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The Burning Out Of Chet Baker's Voice


Chet Baker was one of the main exponents of the cool style. His fragile voice and nonchalant trumpet were juxtaposed with his rebel-without-a-cause look.

It’s likely that if Chet Baker had not discovered the trumpet, his fate would have been to embody one of those rebel idols that the immortal James Dean gave life to on the big screen. Not without reason did some call him the James Dean of jazz. Fortunately, when he was a teenager, his father gave him a trombone as a gift, which young Chet soon traded for a trumpet, in accordance with his size and aspirations. It was at that moment when one of the most sparkling figures of the 1950’s jazz scene, and one the greatest exponents of the cool style, was born.

Following an uncommon training, in which he combined academic studies with dabbling in small jazz clubs, the Yale musician played in bands with Vido Musso and Stan Getz, with whom he began to be recognized in the jazz circuit.

He would have his big break 1952, when he was chosen to play alongside the already legendary Charlie Parker. That was when Chet Baker’s career really took off. After participating in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Chet started his own band, recording his debut vocal album for Pacific Jazz Records. Chet Baker Sings from 1954 set his popularity, and led to his recognition as a singer.

Despite his success, or precisely because of it, Baker became a heroin addict. His unstable nature and his addiction led the musician to be incarcerated on several occasions. And his turbulent lifestyle began to hinder his musical career. In 1960 he was arrested in Italy and sentenced to spend a year and a half behind bars.

Popularity can be a gravestone for delicate spirits. With every note, Chet Baker seemed to rebel against the idea that the world had of him. His Apollonian face, which consecrated him since the very beginning as the pretty face of jazz, was disfigured in 1966 after he took a beating in San Francisco. His public appearances became fewer and further apart. The legend and the man fought to understand each other through the haze of opiates.

Many photographs show a crestfallen Chet Baker, barely supporting his head against his fragile body, just as a child presses himself against his mother’s lap. When he played his trumpet, he seemed to seek that same warmth.––As he also did when he sang. With closed eyes, Baker squeezed each word as if it were his last. His voice always sounded as the prelude to an extinction.

Slightly recovered from his addiction, he returned to the stage in 1973. And simultaneously, as a documentary about his life –eloquently called Let’s Get Lost– was being filmed; at the age of 58 his voice was permanently blown out. His childish gaze and his wrinkled cheeks, however, had been announcing his tragic demise long before.

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