American-born jazz musician Chet Baker shot into the spotlight in the 1950s for his impeccable musical talents. However, the multi-talented music star later gained some level of notoriety owing to his protracted struggle with drugs and multiple run-ins with the law. After surviving a violent attack which left him unable to play the trumpet for a long while, Baker staged a major comeback in the late 1970s which turned out to be the most prolific era of his career.
Chet Baker Personal Life
Chesney Henry “Chet” Baker Jr. was born in Yale, Oklahoma on December 23, 1929. Indeed he must have inherited an assorted array of musical genes as his father Chesney Baker Sr., was a professional guitarist, and his mother, Vera Moser, was a pianist.
Expectedly, the young Baker had a natural inclination to music and after joining his church choir, he was gifted a trombone by his father. The trombone proved too cumbersome for the youngster and was thus replaced with a trumpet. He further honed his musical skills while attending Glendale Junior High School. However, he quit school to join the United States Army at the age of 16 and was deployed to Berlin, Germany.
Baker left the Army in 1948 after which he enrolled to study music theory and harmony at El Camino College. He quit college in his second year and re-enlisted in the army and there, he joined the Sixth Army Band the Presidio of San Francisco and was also opportune to play at several clubs in the area. He eventually delved fulltime into music following his discharge from the military in 1951.
In the earlier years of his career, Chet Baker got to perform with fellow jazz musicians Vido Musso and Stan Getz and he also collaborated with Charlie Parker on a series of shows on the West Coast. In 1952, he formed a quartet with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, bassist Bob Whitlock, and drummer Chico Hamilton and together, they became regular performers at the Haig jazz club in Hollywood.
Their dates at the club turned out to be major sell-outs and their recordings tagged ‘The Gerry Mulligan Quartet Featuring Chet Baker’ were also commercially successful. Their providential collaboration ended in mid-1953 when Mulligan was jailed for drug offenses.
Baker reassembled another quartet following Mulligan’s imprisonment and together, they recorded several albums between 1953-56. The talented singer released his first vocal album Chet Baker Sings in 1956 which earned him more media attention. Chet Baker Sings would later receive the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2001. He was equally a major pioneer of West Coast Jazz subgenre.
Owing to his charming looks, Baker landed a number of acting roles after making his film debut in 1956’s Hell’s Horizon. He turned down a long-term acting contract to embark on an 8-month tour of Europe Chet Baker in Europe in 1956. Upon moving to Italy in late 1959, Baker worked with music composer Ezio Leoni alongside the latter’s orchestra and they were known as the Milano Sessions.
Baker’s career encountered some rough years in the early 1960s owing to his drug habit. He did jail time in Italy and was barred from Germany and the UK on account drug-related offenses. He settled in Milpitas, California and continued performing, however, his woes were far from over. While allegedly trying to purchase drugs in 1966, Baker got beaten by a bunch of thugs and with some of his teeth getting knocked out in the incident, it became nearly impossible for him to play the trumpet afterward.
A few months after the brutal attack, Baker was able to develop a new embouchure with the aid of dentures. He moved to New York to resume his music career and later relocated fully to Europe in the 1970s. The talented musician remained in Europe from 1978 until his death only returning to the US once a year to perform a few shows. These turned out to be his most productive years as he released a vast amount of musical recordings under several minor European labels.
These recordings received much praise from critics though they did not reach a very wide audience. Among Baker’s last performances were a recording of Christmas music Silent Nights in 1986 in New Orleans as well as the live album Chet Baker in Tokyo during a 1987 tour in Japan.
Chet Baker was involved with several women during his lifetime. He met and married a beautiful Pakistani woman named Halema Alli in 1956. A year later, the couple welcomed their only child together, a son named Chesney Aftab Baker. In 1959, Baker left Halema and their son in Paris in the care of Peter Broome. It remains unclear if and when their union was officially dissolved, however, Baker’s son is said to have been adopted by Broome.
In 1964, Chet Baker got married to English actress Carol Ann Jackson whom he had met in 1961. They had 3 children together; sons Dean Baker and Paul Baker and a daughter Melissa. Baker was equally involved with a lot of other women even though he never divorced Carol Baker officially.
Cause of Death
Chet Baker’s dead body was discovered on May 13, 1988, on the street beneath his suite at the Hotel Prins Hendrik, in Amsterdam. He had severe injuries to his head and is estimated to have fallen from the second-floor window. Certain quantities of hard drugs were discovered on his body and also in his hotel room and the death was eventually ruled an accident. His remains are buried at the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. A plaque was commisioned at the Hotel Prins Hendrik, in Amsterdam in his memory.