Friday, April 1, 2011

Chet Baker in Paris – 1955

“The combination of trumpet, piano, bass and drums, used for the first time by Chet Baker and Russ Freeman in 1953, was unusual for the period. It demanded a strange complicity between horn and piano.”
- Alain Tercinet

© -Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles has been laboring for some time at translating passages from the French of Alain Tercinet’s highly regarded book West Coast Jazz [Marseille: Parentheses, 1986].

While this project is still in process and in order to give you a sense of his views and insights on the subject, we thought that we would share an English translation [done by Martin Deo] of Mr. Tercient’s insert notes to Chet Baker in Paris [4 CDs Emarcy 837-474/74/76/77].

In addition to their value for those interested in the career of trumpeter Chet Baker and his discography, Mr. Tercinet's notes also afford a panoramic view of both the tragic and creative aspects of the Paris Jazz scene over one-half century ago.

A video tribute to Chet and the music he made with American, European and Parisian musicians during his 1955 Paris sojourn closes this profile.

© -Alain Tercinet, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“1955. In Paris, Jazz was enjoying one of those heartwarming sunny spells. Record companies were not beating around the bush, recording musicians on their way through, and also French instrumentalists. Often with each other. The review "Jazz Hot," blithely celebrating its twentieth birthday, had been having com­petition since the end of the previous year, from "Jazz Magazine." Now settled just outside the capital, Sidney Bechet had become a familiar personality. His Antibes wedding, resoundingly splendid, was laid open to public curiosity in all the papers, and in the cinema newsreels. "Les Oignons" and "Petite Fleur" appeared on shelves in a respectable number of households, between Piaf records and Albinoni's Adagio. After a free concert by the Maestro, the Olympia theatre looked like a hurricane had struck. Claude Luter, a member of Bechet's band, along with Andre" Reweliotty, reckoned, not without humor, that an identical result would have been achieved if free vegetable-mixers had been distributed... Indeed.

The Vieux Colombier, the Caveau de la Huchette and the Kentucky remained the domain of the "St Germain des Pres New Orleans Revival" A stone's throw away, the Club St Germain, and the Tabou, the Cameleon and the Rose Rouge were flying the colors of modernism for all to see, with support from the Ringside, on the other side of the river Seine. It even seemed possible that this contemporary Jazz was moving out of its chosen haunts: the "Bobby Jaspar All Stars" had opened the first half of a program at the Olympia. The efforts of Henri Renaud, Marcel Romano and a few others were rewarded. The nocturnal creatures had already adopted the studied harmonies and ethereal sounds directly derived from "The Brothers" and their imitators, whether Californian or from New York For it was exactly this aspect of Jazz that seduced numerous French musicians.

The reasons were many and varied. The Bop revolution had been felt only recently, because of the Occupation. The "Be Bop Min­strels" with Hubert Fol and Kenny Clarke, took up the challenge, only to be confronted with another volte-face in Jazz, whose avant-garde was represented by Miles Davis' Nonet. Its impact was decisive: "It was when I heard "Boplicity" that I left the chemistry laboratory where I was working in order to devote myself to this music I finally judged to be worthy of an exceptional aesthetic future." When the author of this confession, the saxo­phonist Bobby Jaspar, arrived in Paris in 1950, he joined Henri Renaud to form one of the first "New Sound" formations.

Parisian jazz, at this time, had little cause to envy the Transatlantic kind, be it in quality or in the speed of its reflexes with regard to new happenings. As early as 1952, the young guitarist Sacha Distel returned from a business trip to the United States with the score of "Wildwood" in his suitcase, and even arrangements of "Thou Swell" and "The Song is You," given to him by Stan Getz before he had recorded them. Each visit by an American soloist brought new confrontations, resulting in a wider vocabulary, and refreshed inspiration. The leading lights of the new direction were nume­rous: Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Frank Rosolino, George Wallington, Jimmy Raney, Gerry Mulligan, Cy Touff, Bill Perkins, Dick Hafer... and most of them went into studios arm in arm with the French, Clifford Brown, Art Farmer and Anthony Ortega among them, with charts by Gigi Gryce and Quincy Jones.

The cornet-player Dave Amram, baritone Jay Cameron, along with Jimmy Gourley, Nat Peck and Lalo Schifrin, had been transformed into permanent guests of the Left Bank cellars. Following the likes of Dick Collins, Buzz Gardner and Sandy Mosse, and preceding Allan Eager, Al Levitt and a few others. These exchanges were not all one-sided: Henri Renaud had gone to the United States to record with Al Cohn, Milt Jackson and J.J. Johnson, among others, and since December 1954, Bernard Peiffer had gone to start a new career.

If one adds that Martial Solal and Andre Hodeir were beginning to be mentioned, one can easily measure the vitality of the Parisian jazz scene, of which Chet Baker was to become a component for some time.

He landed at Orly on September 5th, probably after some hesita­tion: "Jazz Hot" had just announced the cancellation of his tour. Not without provoking frowns of disappointment among fans and numerous musicians, the people most concerned by the news. As for the critics, who were clearly more reserved, they would once again turn a selectively deaf ear to the proceedings. When all seemed in order again, one question remained on the agenda: "Will the real Chet Baker correspond to the silhouette imagined by his fans?"

At that time, very few things were known about his career. His albums appeared in France in an utterly disorderly fashion, and, as usual, discographical information shone by its absence. That he had left Gerry Mulligan's Quartet was certain; even though he had been seen again with the baritone player and Phil Urso for a Carnegie Hall concert on March 12th that same year. And Gerry had joined the trumpeter's group at the Newport Festival... Various notes and a few brief interviews mentioned bookings with military bands, his discovery of Jazz through Stan Kenton's records, and appearances on the Pacific coast with Charlie Parker. Only years later did we learn that Bird chose him at an audition featuring the cream of the crop of Californian trumpet-players, and that on his return to New York, Parker had this word of warning for his former partners: "You better watch out, there's a little white cat on the West Coast who's gonna eat you up."

For the time being, this was the Chet who had turned a pretty and nostalgic song, "My Funny Valentine" into a masterpiece of nerve-tingling emotion and chaste lyricism. So it was thought he could play only confidentially, protected by subdued lighting, the better to distill an insidious sadness. Would he sing, perhaps? An aspect of his talent that didn't excite any enthusiasm, even amongst his worshippers, so strong at the time was the prejudice towards crooners. We were way off the mark.

Solidly centered in the spotlight, Chet Baker was to deliver a magnificent raspberry to this stereotyped image. People expected a musician murmuring in the mist, and here stood an incisive, powerful trumpeter with a clear tone. Which detracted not at all from the poetic side of his playing. The chairs which logic indicated should have been occupied by a group of Californians, in fact contained two Bostonians, Dick Twardzik and Pete Littman, plus a native of Philadelphia, Jimmy Bond. None seemed an adept of obsequious accompaniment, or fading from sight As for the repertoire there were the hoped-for standards, plus curious com­positions written by Bob Zieff, the third to come from Boston. The themes had twists that were quite unorthodox, with beautiful harmonic audacity.

The Quartet appeared on October 4th at the Salle Pleyel. Sidney Bechet was in the audience, the "Bobby Jaspar All Stars" and Martial Sola! were onstage, opening for the Quartet. The public reacted well. Between trips away from the capital, and to Ger­many, the musicians recorded an album for Barclay. Five more seem to have been planned. The Gods were on the visitors' side... until precisely the 21st. The day Dick Twardzik was found in his hotel-room on the Rue St Benoit, dead from an overdose.

It was a severe blow, but bookings do not have much to do with sentiment. Two days later, Chet appeared in London. According to union rules over there, Chet could not play trumpet. Accompanied by Raymond Fol, he sang four standards before stopping, over­come with emotion. Then things happened very quickly, after an argument, Pete Littman returned to the United States in a hurry. Bert Dahlander took his place. Jimmy Bond was quick to follow the drummer's example. From now on, Chet was on his own. Paris became the focal-point of his activities, the jazz scene being perfectly adequate for his musical plans, as we have seen. Me had some good times there, like his jamming at the Tabou with Lars Gullm. His fellow-musicians had a high opinion of him, and he in turn saw the merits of those alongside him: Maurice Vander, Rene Urtreger, Bobby Jaspar, Raymond Fol, Jean-Louis Viale, etc..

From then on, when Chet took to the road, or went into a studio, his company was French or Belgian. Jean-Louis Chautemps, Ralph Schecroun, Francy Boland, Eddie de Haas and Charles Saudrais went with him to Iceland, Scandinavia, Italy and Ger­many. Never before had an American jazz musician undertaken such a long tour of the Old Continent When he climbed into a plane in the middle of April 1956, Chet Baker had been away from the States for eight months. During that time, he had lived through tragedy, and also had moments of glory; as evidence, he left behind three of the best albums he had recorded. French arrangers, Pierre Michelot and Christian Chevallier, had especially written original compositions that emphasized his characteristic lyricism. The departing musician was not quite the same Chet Baker who had arrived the year before: he had matured, and gained confidence and authority. 

From now on, one thing was for sure; he was someone to be reckoned with.”