Friday Night Jazz: Chet Baker

I was searching out some of my favorite Jazz artists on YouTube, when I randomly stumbled across this video of Chet Baker. For those of you unfamiliar with Baker, he was a terrific Trumpet player who was later "discovered" as a wistful blues singer, specializing in ballads and love songs.

Chet Baker’s vocal style is unmistakably unique — my favorite
description of his his voice is "at times, it seems like he’s
hanging onto the melody by his fingernails."
He seems at times half a tone off where you might expect him to be.

There is a lovely
melancholy, a gentle beauty, to the way he wraps his voice around a
song. The soft, simple sentiment embodied in his lyrical approach to ballads
can turn any song into a brooding lament.

The video below was rather unusual — I was under the impression that YouTube uploads werew limited to 10 minutes. The following beastie clocks in at 40:30 — Its a compilation featuring Chet playing and singing:

There’s quite a few other videos at . . .


Either of these two CDs are good places to start exploring Baker’s works:

My Funny Valentine

"His vocals were absolutely distinctive, sung in a high-pitched, even
fragile voice seemingly drained of emotion and yet possessing an
inherent charm, a detachment that might be both the antithesis of style
and its definition, whether it’s heard as sensitivity or indifference.
The singing is a double of his trumpet playing here, spare and barely
present but achieving much through nuance and suggestion. Pianist Russ
Freeman is an almost constant partner, supplying deft chords and
harmonic daring, amplifying Baker’s ideas. Their empathy is especially
evident in the beautiful instrumental "Moon Love," but it’s just as
significant on signature Baker songs such as "My Funny Valentine,"
"Let’s Get Lost," and "Like Someone in Love." 
–Stuart Broomer


The Best of Chet Baker Sings

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. John Navin commented on Mar 16

    Chet’s “My Funny Valentine” put to grim but effective use in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

    I covered the GOOG short.

  2. wtd commented on Mar 16

    I always thought Baker’s reputation was inflated by all the stuff outside the music… young, good-looking tragic doomed figure with a great life story. The drug addiction, getting his teeth knocked out over a drug debt, etc.

    But musically, a little weak. Had a lot of trouble staying on key when he sings, limited range and limited imagination when he plays, especialy when compared to somebody who really did have the chops. Clifford Brown, for e.g.

    Still nice to have this clip. Thanks for posting it.

  3. Barry Ritholtz commented on Mar 16

    There as something oddly pleasing about his off-kilter approach to vocal melodies. His phrasing is different, and the melodic variations he tosses off are certainly peculiar. But it definitely works.

    His style makes him the “anti-Sinatra” — and as a Frank fan, I mean that in a good way . . .

    When I first heard his work, I hadn’t known of the whole tragic tale. Now, its almost a cliche — even his “accidental” death falling out of a 2nd floor hotel balcony.

    Indeed, knowing all the details adds a layer of melancholy that I can almost hear in his voice — its as if he knew what his fate was to be.

  4. Polly Anna commented on Mar 16

    I play a lot of Chet Baker around the house and people unfamiliar with jazz who stop by always think it’s a woman singing. I look at them like they’re crazy, but if you’ve never heard him, I guess it might.

  5. Polly Anna commented on Mar 16

    Oh, and thanks for the post BR.

    I have lambasted youtube in the past for being a repository for video of young college men lighting their drunk selves on fire. But recently I have discovered it houses a treasure trove of great live music videos. ‘Course now I am like fiend…and a hypocrite I suppose.

  6. Guy Lerner commented on Mar 16

    Chet Baker: One of the best; the fact that he was rough around the edges makes him worth listening to

  7. S commented on Mar 17

    Polly, youtube is being forced to take down many vids taht are true treasures.

    About a dozen vids that I had favorited, some going as far back as the ’30s, have been taken down. Satchmo doing “Hello Dolly”, Satchmo doing “When the Saints Go Marching In”; Charlie Parker vids; Count Basie vids; early Smokey Robinson vids – all no longer available.


  8. ballyache commented on Mar 17

    Musical taste is a very personal thing. The fact that he had a tragic life doesn’t make his singing any better. If you didn’t know who he was, and heard him for the first time, I think you might very well dismiss his singing as unprofessional.

    If you want singing with feeling, without regard for voice quality, try Jimmy Durante some time.

  9. drew commented on Mar 19

    You’re right musical taste is very personal. I can’t stand Jimmy Durante and absolutely love Chet Baker. The first time I heard him I didn’t know who he was. In fact, I thought it was a girl singing. Thanks for posting this.

  10. toby commented on Mar 19

    Chet Baker is one of my favorite singers. His a voice is laid-back, and shy, which I can really relate to. I terms of intonation, he might be a bit tentative/off-center on the attack sometimes, but he’ll bend the note to the right pitch after that and it sounds alright – he has a good ear, you have to be to be a jazz musician.

  11. John Wilson commented on Mar 29

    Chet, Jimmy Durante, Neil young, we can think of others with terrible but distinctive and wonderful voices. All are in their own way true greats, with hauntingly beautiful, off key and quixotic melodies.

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