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Chet Baker Laid Back by M. Kriss

Chesney Henry…Chet… Baker, the “voiceless epiglottal fricative” (H) poster boy of “west coast” jazz. Horn. Heroin. A halftone, tarnished silver stained angle of a man (thanks to Bill Claxton’s iconic photography) who liked to drive as though he had wings…fast…pissed off or not. (I didn’t say he played fast. — loose, maybe, but not fast. Chesney Henry Baker was not Clifford Brown.)
Chet…A shy, subconscious-self-saboteur…Really? You don’t say? Um…who knows? Would it make a difference? Sober in his musical styling, yet not in his recreational choices (like I said, he was no Clifford Brown), Chet Baker blew many ways beyond a piece of brass with three piston valves. Does anyone really dwell on the intricacies of flutter tonguing while listening to Chet Baker? Uh. Maybe…Ta-ka-ta-ta-ka-ta-ta-ka-ta. (That’s my heart palpitating.)
Romancing the stoned… Voice and horn mellifluously seeping from an aerophone and larynx. There’s absolutely nothing jarring about honey, sugar, Candy. One wouldn’t expect “soft and feminine” from that alabaster jaw, but upon first listening to the “smoky” sultry voice so indicative of the jazz genre, one can’t but help question if someone fooled around with the pitch control when they put it to tape. Is that Julie London? Or, wait…KD Lang ?

Chet Baker. My…funny. I can’t hear a smile in his heart… Almost Blue …almost bored….all…most… no — gotcha — OH! Boy. But — isn’t that what draws us in — that naturally harmonic girl/boy voice? Not Wayne Newton, people — Chet Baker. He is apart. Cool jazz is not an oxymoron. It is Chet Baker You can’t touch this. So cool, he’s hot.

What’s so cool about jazz anyway? The sanctified, cerebral, musical narcissism that keeps us all at arm’s length? Is it the furrowed brow of focus that tells us not to interrupt without (the sound of one hand) clapping? Dissonant destruction born from a breakdown of bastardized chords and notes that might take a listener so far afield from the mother script that one can only hang onto the next note till the ride stops — or, is that red hot jazz? If B-Boppin’ Charlie Parker thought he heard Red Hot Bix Beiderbecke in Cool Blue Chet, then it has to be something other than a thermometer that reads the difference. Is it alcohol fueled simplicity vs. smack propelled simplicity? Or just plain and simple simplicity that is accessible and easy to follow in a genre which “normally” pinballs the neurotransmitters via the vestibular nerve? SO — what’s so special about Chet? Grace? … Yeah, like Grace Kelly — cold (raw) fusion… on the rocks.
Smoooothie Chesney Henry Baker, Jr. was “west coast” (via the Oklahoma Dust Bowl?). No wonder (with plenty of wander). Big Sur, big surf, big surplus of attractive cheek bones. Beauty is in the embouchure of the B flat holder. Perhaps his strumpet looks trumped his trumpet. Who takes a pretty face seriously? (DON’T HATE ME BECAUSE I’M BEAUTIFUL.) Apparently Mr. Baker picked up a wife in Italy by asking her if she realized that she had a face that belonged in movies… um… according to her, he wasn’t being ironic. After all, he was an actor, too. Really? How could he take himself seriously?
Does anyone care about the contrapuntal phrasing that doesn’t hit a high C due to a few missing teeth and a busted lip, or do they care more that the lack of ivories marred a photogenic countenance? Did losing a couple of teeth give him a signature and real street “cred” or, did his street cred wreck his IT boy status? It had to be ultra difficult to pick up that trumpet again after having the pulp knocked out of his mouth. For all his “effete” vocalizing (hey, I’m talking about it within the context of his prime time), he was no fragile musician. Yet, that voice belies his fortitude…

Chet Baker, Miles Davis, and Gerry Mulligan created a sound so synonymous with getting laid [back] (then… and now) that it has become a subliminal invite to indulge in the blue grey sheen of a Bill Claxton Kodak moment (uh, sorry — obsolete reference) that sells all kinds of product nowadays. What is it about that sound that heralds isolation, solitude — a lonely stroll down an asphalt jungle alley after a downpour — and/or (paradoxically) a bachelor pad takedown? Sophisticated, seductive, and singularly sensual…(sigh) it makes one feel so… alone. You can almost feel the humidity and sweat dissipate and evaporate on your skin… the shallow breathing, the euphoria, the agonies, the chucks around the turn? (CHECK MY PUPILS, SOMEBODY! Okay, maybe it’s just a thyroid condition.)
Chet Baker left the building at 58. Considering the amount of drugs in which he indulged in his lifetime, it wasn’t a bad run. It was reasonable to expect that he could have survived middle age… even in Amsterdam. So, why didn’t he use the door on his way out?
It’s as though he thought he had wings…

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