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The Best of Chet Baker Sings
Let’s Get Lost
1. THE THRILL IS GONE
2. BUT NOT FOR ME
3. TIME AFTER TIME
4. I GET ALONG WITHOUT YOU VERY WELL
5. THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU
6. LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING
7. MY FUNNY VALENTINE
8. I FALL IN LOVE TOO EASILY
10. JUST FRIENDS
11. I REMEMBER YOU
12. LET'S GET LOST
13. LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY
14. YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS
15. THAT OLD FEELING
16. IT'S ALWAYS YOU
(Burke-Van Heusen) 3:31
17. I'VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE
18. MY BUDDY
19. LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE
(Burke-Van Heusen) 2:23
20. MY IDEAL
CHET BAKER, vocals, trumpet
RUSS FREEMAN, piano
JOE MONDRAGON, bass, (on #1)
CARSON SMITH, bass (on #2-14)
JIMMY BOND, bass (on #15-20)
SHELLY MANNE, drums (on #1)
BOB NEEL, drums (on #2-14)
PETER LITTMAN. drums (on #15-17)
LAWRENCE MARABLE, drums (on #18-20)
Produced by Richard Bock
Produced for release by Michael Cuscuna
Recorded on October 27, 1953 at Radio Recorders, LA (#1)
February 15, 1954 at Capitol Studios, LA (#2-8)
March 7, 1955 at Capitol Studios, LA (#9-14)
July 23, 1956 at the Forum Theatre, LA (#15-17)
July 30, 1956 at the Forum Theatre, LA (#18-20)
Design & Art Direction: Richard Mantel/Franko Caligiuri
All selections are mono and previously released.
"My phrasing as a singer has been influenced a lot by my playing. If I hadn't been a trumpet player, I don't know if I would have arrived at singing that way. I probably wouldn't have. I don't know whether I'm a trumpet player who sings or a singer who plays the trumpet.I love to do both." - Chet Baker
"(Chet Baker sang with) an innocent sweetness that made girls fall right out of their saddle oxfords." - Rex Reed
"His vocal prowess, though it had a short vogue, was such as to make Rex Harrison sound like a bel canto virtuoso." - Nat Hentoff
"Have you ever heard someone who couldn't sing, but did something to you emotionally?" - Ornette Coleman
Can you qualify a word like "Disarming"? Either something is or it isn't. But Chet Baker's music rates as that rara avis that's a great deal more disarming than most items which demand that adjective, and his singing is even more so than his playing. By devoiding himself of all defenses, Baker causes his audiences to do the same.
Those who would retain their armaments in his presence have nothing to fall back on, not even tradition. There's nothing in the highly sympatico tradition of singing jazz musicians to prepare us for Chet Baker, except by way of contrast. Fats Waller reserved his capacity for austerity for the piano and restricted his voice to fine arabian tomfoolery. Buddy Rich made a disappointing rhythm singer and a surprisingly convincing balladeer. Doc Cheatham regards vocalizing as serving the dual functions of pleasing the crowd and giving his octegenerian trumpet chops a much-entitled rest. Excepting King Louis, Lips Page, Nat Cole and Jack Teagarden (whom, coincidentally, Baker's father had encouraged him to emulate; certainly both shared a taste - you should forgive the expression - for rather constant inebriation) few musicians created vocal music of a piece with their own playing.
With Chet Baker, all bets are off. From his first recorded vocal, The Thrill is Gone, onwards, for instance, Baker stays clear out of the singing musician's "ghetto repertoire” like "Rhythm in a Riff” or "Route 66" (the latter becoming the non-singing singer's national anthem after Cole and composer Bobby Troop, not to mention Buddy Rich and Georgie Auld); for him that would equate one of those family gatherings when they stick you at the little kids' table - and you're 26! Baker at once has the wherewithal to sit with the big people.
That's cause the source of his inspiration in singing isn't to work the crowd, to win a popularity poll or to rest his embouchure; Chet Baker sings out of love for the songs. As Doug Ramsey has pointed out, unlike most post-Armstrong & Parker soloists, Baker rarely interpolates quotes from one song in the middle of another - sort of taking the tune in vain. Though Sid Caesar once joked that '50s jazz groups hired an extra man on radar to warn the band when they were approaching the melody, Baker, like Monk and Sonny Rollins, developed uses for the songwriter's contribution that suit him better than fragmenting their melodies into scrunched four-bar quotes or usurping their chord changes for substitute heads - Baker knew the equal value of harmonic and melodic improvisation.
And he also never perceived the composer's melody as a potential threat to whatever melodies he might improvise on a song's harmonic underpinnings. He's also far from a Tin Pan Alley supremist, as he affords the same creative but not restrictive respect to the compositions of Horace Silver, J. J. Johnson, Sam Rivers, Herbie Hancock (as well as those who wrote for him, like Gerry Mulligan and Russ Freeman). His own improvisations have the felling of song-form melodies; not necessarily songs like in King Pleasure or Jon Hendricks, but songs like in Frank Loesser or Matt Dennis.
In listening to Baker, take nothing for granted: he neither sticks to the rules nor breaks them just for the point of it. He gleefully tramples across other people's restrictions of genre and gender, being able to infuse "Happy Little Sunbeam" with as much raw emotion as another player might reserve for "Sloppy Drunk Again Woman Blues." His moony voice twangs like an Oakie-cum-valley person at times, but more often he achieves geographic-not to mention sexual-ambivilence. One of the rare male jazz performers widely appreciated in the Gay community (according to a source at New York's Gryphon Records shop), only '40s Frank Sinatra and '30s Jimmy Rushing can approach Baker's yinyang eroticism.
I like to think that Baker most loved the also-ran non-standard songs of the' 40s, especially by Hollywood teams like Burke & Van Heusen and/or DeLange, Dennis & Adair, Cahn & Styne, and the aforementioned Mr. Loesser (who wrote Let's Get Lost for Dick Powell's last musical picture, True to Life in 1943). Certainly, he honored their work with as much enthusiasm as the more acceptably canonized compositions of the heavyweight broadway writers; their common undercurrent of tainted postwar optimism was central to his own expression, making it possible for Baker to modulate freely between illusion and disillusion.
Yet having said that, the much-performed Gershwin masterpiece But Not For Me ranks as the definitive example of Baker's singing (coincidentally, it was also the first Baker vocal most of us heard, having been the lead-in track on the original Chet Baker Sings and the first tune recorded on Baker's initial all-vocal date). Baker opens on trumpet with the verse-and that he even learned them at all shows what might be construed as uncharacteristic dedication on Baker's part (as does his restoration of the original second line, vintage 1920, of Look For the Silver Lining: "When e'er a cloud appears ... "), since these 16-bar introductions had become pretty scarce animals by this time. Normally antisocial creatures, designed to set the stage for what follows and not swing in themselves, Baker puts the verses into tempo and makes them move.
Baker's vocal on the refrain further balances the scale between the intentions of Mr. Gershwin and Mr. Baker: the song had been written as a wry comedy relief number in the 1930 show Girl Crazy; the kiddie komedienne Mitzi Green belted it as a Bing Crosby parody in the 1932 film version, though by the time of the 1943 Judy Garland M-G-M adaption, the song had been shorn of its humorous angle and treated exclusively as a straight ballad. Baker, the original funny valentine (even if his looks were more photographable than laughable), restores the comic irony at its core. His trumpet solo, separated in the center by a false modulation (he brightens his tone to suggest going up a half step), prefaces its climax with "Be My Love" - style cadenzas which announce "here it comes!" Pianist Russ Freeman, more than just Baker's accompanist in the original quartet but essentially his co-leader, catches the mood perfectly with Garner-like ebullience, propelled by Bob Nell's Manne-ly brushwork and then ... boom! Baker re-enters right at that precisely perfect part of the beat in the middle of a stoptime break, for the "out" half-chorus. It's surely one of the more rewarding ways to spend 180 seconds that I can think of.
Baker's singing itself functions on many levels, examining them constituting a certain kind of critical archaeology. You start to dig and first you come across what Rex Reed and many another commentator on the subject have described with words like "innocent" and "sweetness." Keep digging and at a certain point you come across a layer of irony, but hammer in your cerebral pickaxes a little deeper and you reach ... more innocence. His pared-down technical machinery at times suggests a hip Alfalfa, a little kid circa 1940, singing grown-up songs (the late Mr. Switzer would have been far less funny singing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"), cooing rather than screeching up to the mike and pretending to be a romantic crooner, like a little lady making believe in her mother's formal gown; the precious precociousness of the thought makes it so endearing.
At other times Baker takes a 360 degree turn: rather than a child feigning emotional maturity, he becomes a rather tainted Lothario in a fruitless search for lost innocence. It's to Baker's credit that he's the most widely debated vocalist since Al Jolson: to some (me, for instance) there are incredibly deep emotions stirring or about to be stirred when he sings, while to others, there's a whole lot of nothing going on, and to still others, that in itself is attractive - as Jim Hoberman says, it's like "being sweet-talked by the void."
Baker emerges as a vocalist at the same time he steps in front as a leader - though surely Gerry Mulligan, in whose quartet Baker came to world wide attention, wouldn't have objected to his singing as he's been known to vocalize himself a few times (a more tactful critic would overlook it). He had, naturally, been singing even further back than playing the trumpet, but didn't begin to record his voice until Pacific Jazz major domo Dick Bock heard him singing on a gig. The next studio session (October 27, 1953) included two test vocal refrains by Baker, a first version of "I Fall in Love Too Easily" (unissued on LP until Mosiac's The Complete Pacific Jazz Studio Recordings of the Chet Baker Quartet with Russ Freeman, MR4-122) and The Thrill is Gone. Like "My Funny Valentine," the Mulligan Quartet record that officially made a star out of the young trumpeter, this first Chet Baker vocal single became a runaway success, so in February '54 Bock had Baker record seven more vocals, six new songs and a remake of "I Fall In Love ... " for the ten-inch LP Chet Baker Sings. Bock followed this with Chet Baker Plays and Sings with Bud Shank, Russ Freeman and Strings, an all-new twelve inch LP from the next year that included six more vocal cuts with the quartet (and four more with strings). Then, in 1956, Baker, Bock and the quartet waxed another six songs to expand the original Chet Baker Sings ten-incher into a twelve-incher. The end result is what you have here: twenty exquisite songs on CD and fourteen on LP sung and played by Chet Baker with his original quartet featuring Russ Freeman.
And if you think that’s confusing, just wait: the circumstances under which this music was recorded were nothing compared to what happened with it afterwards! Bock, who loved tampering with his master tapes the same way Bob Weinstock of Prestige Records loved messing up his LP graphics, painted three large mustaches on top of the music. Not in chronological order: he added heavy reverberation to the original mono tracks in the stereo era (sort of simulating simulated <cq> stereo); he hired Joe Pass to overdub rhythm guitar on top of the quartet. Lastly, for an album titled Pretty/Groovy, Bock took advantage of Baker's having recorded his vocals and trumpet on separate channels of the multi-track tape (so he could overdub obligatos to his own vocals on the ballads - as on The Thrill is Gone), by having Bill Perkins and Jimmy Giuffre punch in tenor sax and clarinet solos in place of the vocals; in some cases, using alternate takes instead of the masters. (We should have, suspected somebody was pulling our collective leg on an album with a cover that juxtaposed the images of Bix Beiderbecke, who got stoned as a reaction to repression, and Baker, who did the same in reaction to lack of same.)
Not that Bock's tamperings destroyed the music. Even though I have this current set, which contains the complete original unscrewed-up masters, I'm still going to hold onto some of my Japanese issues of Chet Baker Sings and Pretty/Groovy because I know there'll be times when I'll be in the mood to hear that music that way - like museum officials debating what to do with the fig leaves inflicted on renaissance paintings by stuffier later generations. Just the same, the way Michael Cuscuna has preserved these performances for compact disc (which, without going out too far on a limb, is doubtless how the next two or three generations will hear them) is the definitive way: the masters as Chet and the quartet recorded them in 1953-1956, with no artificial additions.
In a sense, Bock's and Cuscuna's widely divergent opinions of how this music should be presented reflect how this music is so much in the ear of the behearer. It's open to all perceptions, closing off any kind of idea would kill the point of Baker's life and music. Excepting pre-conceived notions, that is. Biases and limiting expectations of how human expression must be organized and how much passion the human soul is capable of expressing have to be checked at the door-just as Baker has checked his. He's so thoroughly divested himself of any barriers between himself and his audience, you wonder if they were ever there to begin with.
- Will Friedwald