The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

January 30, 2006

Chet Baker for beginners

I've been wanting to write about this for a while now, but someone else beat me to it. Duh. In a recent posting on his weblog, Mr deedee revealed my obsession with the music of Chet Baker*, especially the post-1977 recordings, which are ignored by most (probably because they lack the commercial backing of a big record company), but which I consider to be his best.

One of the problems with Baker's recordings is that there are no good compilation records that serve a a good introduction; this is mostly due to the fact that Baker recorded for a myriad of record labels, some fairly obscure, and assembling a compilation requires dealing with more copyright owners than a human brain can deal with.

EMI has been issuing a vast number of compilations through its Capitol, Pacific Jazz and World Pacific labels (like this and this), but these only chronicle the time when Baker was a superstar, 1953 to 1956, and these are just the starting point of his musical development. There is one decent compilation of the Riverside years 1958-1959, and a few by PolyGram/Universal for some mid-1950s and mid-1960s recordings, but the recordings from 1977 to 1988 have not been compiled at all.

This means that to get acquainted with his music, you have to dive into the regular releases. The problem is that there are a myriad of releases, and the fact that Baker was a heroin addict for over 30 years means that he made a lot of pretty bad records simply to get money for drugs.

At the behest of Mr deedee, I have therefore compiled a list of twenty Chet Baker albums that I consider money well spent. This list necessarily reflects my own personal taste and may include albums that you don't like. My suggestion is that you start with an album whose description interests you and then look at albums from the same or a different period, depending on whether you liked it or not.

Essential Chet Baker - click here to go to the list.
To order any of these records from, click here.

*) As of 30 January 2006, the Wikipedia entry contains one error -- can you spot it?

Posted by Horst on January 30, 2006 07:58 AM to reviews | Tell-a-friend

dd said on January 30, 2006 10:44 PM:

many thanks again for pointing me towards this wonderful music!
as for the wiki error: to my knowledge, the incident in which baker lost his frontal teeth occured in 1966, not 1971. (however, it is not entirely clear if this beating took place altogether - other sources claim that his teeth had just rotted due to heavy substance abuse.)

Horst said on January 31, 2006 08:50 AM:

Correct. Funny enough, even Baker himself mentioned various dates as to when the incident was supposed to have happened, and his wife insists it was yet another different day, but at least they all agree it was in 1966. :-)

The story that he stopped playing for eight years after the incident is also not true -- he recorded a number of records with rather awful elevator music between 1966 and 1973. It wasn't until Dizzy Gillespie got him a good record deal in the mid-1970s that he pulled himself together and started playing in honest earnest again.

laura g brown said on January 31, 2006 09:03 PM:

what a hard livin' not know for sure when your front teeth were knocked out! I'm curious now, and gotta check out the music of Chet Baker.

"...started playing in *earnest* again," you mean.

lucid said on February 4, 2006 08:43 PM:

Horst is being corrected LOL

laura g brown said on February 5, 2006 05:33 PM:

Hey, 9 out of 10 Americans you meet (including me) know only one language. Horst is a genius. I just found out Chet Baker is connected, speciously, to Mussolini. Apparently, Mussolini's son Roman, who just died, was an accomplished jazz musician who played with Baker.

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