Facts about Chet Baker
Chet Baker Biography
Chet Baker was a jazz trumpeter and singer who reached stardom in the 1950s as the face of West Coast “cool jazz,” only to undermine his career in the 1960s and ’70s with illegal narcotics.
An Oklahoma boy whose family moved to California in 1940, he started playing trumpet with the U.S. Army in his teens. He served from 1946 to 1948, then again from 1950 to 1952, when he began a professional career in San Francisco. He rose to stardom playing in 1952 for Charlie Parker and Gerry Mulligan. His solo from “My Funny Valentine” became a career signature, and he formed his own band in 1953. Baker was darkly handsome and white, and won numerous polls as America’s top trumpet player, beating out legends such as Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis at the time.
His 1954 album, Chet Baker Sings and Plays, won him fans — if not great respect — for his smooth crooning, but in the late 1950s his troubles with heroin began. A hit with fans in Europe, Baker was less popular with the authorities, and his drug problem got him jail time in Italy and deportations from Great Britain, West Germany and Switzerland. A beating on the streets in 1968 ruined his teeth and changed his sound, but he had a career resurgence in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with an extra boost from Elvis Costello — Baker played trumpet on Costello’s song “Shipbuilding” and won over a new generation of fans. He continued to record in Europe, but fell from a hotel window in Amsterdam and died at the age of 59. Although he was in possession of heroin and cocaine at the time, his death was ruled accidental.