Book Review: Chet Baker: His Life and Music

By , September 22, 2004

Chet Baker: His Life and Music

by Jeroen de Valk

Every time I hear the muted, forlorn trumpet solo Chet Baker provides to Elvis Costello’s 1983 gem “Shipbuilding” it makes me appreciate his singular, deliberate tone.

Chet Baker: His Life and Music, by Jeroen de Valk, sheds light on his troubled and ultimately tragic life and his musical accomplishments in an unvarnished style.

Starting with the end and the small funeral after his death in Amsterdam in 1988, de Valk traces back to Chet’s Oklahoma roots, the early years and peaks with Gary Mulligan and Russ Feeman to his European sojourns and years marked by drug addiction and prison time.

Keeping track of his various wives and periods is helped by a chronology at the beginning, an excellent interview from 1979 and a comprehensive discography.

What I especially appreciated were the photos – from seeing Chet with those giant glasses from the late ‘70’s to a look of intense immersion in his playing to that shot of him from 1961 sitting on a window ledge in Italy (made me think of his death 27 years later) – captures how much he changed over the years.

For those who have seen the film “Lets get Lost” or want to really  know more about the trumpeter capable of playing with exceptional clarity and style, this book is very worthwhile reading.

-Phil

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