Chet Baker, born to be cool

A great piece of writing on jazz has recently been posted on The Smart Set. In Born to be cool, Matthew Duffus writes about jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, reporting about his troubled life, musical prowess, influence, and legacy. Some facts are well known, like the reception and then the competition with trumpet legends such as Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie; other tidbits are less known (to me at least). On Baker legacy:

As I hope this makes clear, with Baker, music is only part of the story. In order to fully grasp his significance within popular culture, we must also look at the mythos surrounding him and the often less salacious truth that lies beneath that dramatic surface. It is only by looking concurrently at Baker’s music and image that we can truly understand why he has endured despite the existence of more technically-gifted trumpeters and impressive vocalists. Many such musicians came to the fore throughout his tumultuous lifetime, but few have captured the public’s attention or endured in the way that Baker has. For all of his limited range, not to mention the dramatic loss of the youthful good looks that are at the root of his image, he managed to make a living as a musician for decades and has persisted in the popular imagination and jazz fans’ collections almost 35 years after his death.

I’ve always listened to Barker with little attention, knowing and researching little about the artist and his music. This article fills a hole. Also, I am grateful to Duffus for letting me discover a gem like Live in Tokyo, an album recorded on stage less than a year before his premature, tragic death and then released posthumously. I am listening to it as I write this note, and man isn’t it just great.

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