Although born on December 23, 1929, in Yale, Oklahoma, jazz musician Chet Baker moved with his family to California in 1940, where he began playing trumpet at age eleven. Baker will always be recognized for his understated and elegant trumpet style as well as for his subdued and intimate vocals. After being exposed to jazz while playing in U.S. Army bands from 1946 to 1948 and from 1950 to 1952, Baker emerged into the West Coast jazz scene fully matured and developed in the subtle style he would exhibit throughout his playing career.
Following some dates with bebop genius Charlie Parker in 1952, Baker joined Gerry Mulligan's "pianoless quartet," which became a widely copied jazz combo configuration of trumpet, saxophone, bass, and drums. The participation in Mulligan's quartet brought Baker instant adulation from jazz fans and critics, who gave him the moniker "the West Coast Miles Davis." Unfortunately, the similarity with Davis ran deeper than music, and Baker's addiction to drugs short-circuited his stability throughout the 1960s and 1970s. By the mid-1980s he was in high demand throughout European and United States jazz centers, and in 1989 he was the focus of an excellent film documentary, Let's Get Lost. Chet Baker died on May 13, 1988, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). Stanley Sadie, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.; New York: Grove, 2001).
Hugh W. Foley, Jr.
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