Thursday, May 17, 2018

Chet Baker in Europe

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

Edited by Ingo Wulff and published by Nieswand-Verlag, Kiel, Germany, in 1993 Chet Baker in Europe is a stunning photographic essay that covers Chet tenure in Europe from 1975 until his death there in 1988.

Many of the book’s photographs are offered unadorned by comments or explanations which only serves to enhance their dramatic quality.

Others images in the book are accompanied by remarks and observations from some of the artists and friends who played a role in Chet’s professional career while he was in Europe from 1975 – 1988.

The following introduction by the editor Ingo Wulff contains his explanation as to how and why he approached this compilation. He also references the fact that the book exclusively includes a CD by the same title.

As a point in closing, although the photographs in the book are presented in chronological order from 1975 – 1978, in some cases, their representation in this feature may be placed out of sequence. Also, commentary from certain musicians may have been juxtaposed with photographs differently than their depiction in the original work.

© -Ingo Wulff, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“The American trumpet player Chet Baker died in the early morning of May 13, 1988. He was 58 years old. His death was caused by a fall from a second-storey window of the Prins Hendrik Hotel in Amsterdam, sometime between two and three in the morning. Rumors still circulate regarding the exact circumstances: the Dutch police believe it was an accidental death stemming from drug abuse, others speak of murder, still others consider suicide a plausible explanation. Another theory says that Chet Baker tried to climb the hotel facade to enter his locked room without having to pass the reception desk. It is probable, though, that the fall from the window took place without the involvement of others since the door to his room was locked from the inside.

Chet Baker's professional career began in 1952, the year he joined the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. His ascent was rapid between 1953 and 1958 he repeatedly topped the polls of "Downbeat", "Metronome" and "Melody Maker" - his descent equally so, the result of drugs, imprisonment and, in 1968, a fist fight in which he lost several teeth and was forced to stop playing for a considerable time. In 1974 Chet Baker celebrated his comeback in yet another "reunion" with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan in New York's Carnegie Hall. He returned to Europe, after a lengthy absence, in 1975. For him and for his American colleagues, Europe offered more favourable conditions than the motherland of jazz: the money was better, the audiences and critics receptive. In the years to follow, Europe become a new "home" for Chet Baker, the returns to America fewer and shorter.  On those journeys, he usually visited his family (mother, wife and three children) in Yale, Oklahoma. In the 70s, singer Ruth Young accompanied Chet Baker on his European tours; by the early 80s, he was sharing life on the road with saxophonist Diane Vavra.

Belgian saxophonist Jacques Pelzer had befriended Chet in the mid-Fifties, and the association continued until Baker's death. Pelzer's Liege [Belgium] home was a place where the trumpeter could rest and relax. He stored his few personal belongings there and returned frequently in the course of his endless tours. Jacques Pelzer's daughter Micheline organized many of Chet Baker's daily affairs and was often present at his concerts. She is a drummer, and the wife of pianist Michel Graillier who played with Baker for more than ten years.

Chet Baker had at least one good friend in almost every major European country: Randi Hultin in Oslo, Ove Tronekjaer and Hans H. Lerfeldt in Copenhagen, Evert Hekkema in Amsterdam, Bertrand Fevre in Paris, Paolo Piangiarelli in Macerata [Italy]. What he never had, however, was a home of his own; he was almost constantly en route between countries, often covering ridiculous distances to get from one gig to the next. In the spring of 1988 he decided finally to settle down and rent a house for himself and Diane Vavra on the outskirts of Paris. In mid-February, however, Diane Vavra went back to America, and did not return to Europe until after Chet Baker's death.

The enclosed CD contains studio recordings not previously available on Compact Disc: in the smallest of ensembles, the duo, with vibraphone player Wolfgang Lackerschmid and, in a larger line-up, as guest soloist with the Amstel Octet. Additionally, the CD includes four excerpts from interviews with Chet Baker.

The pictures in this book illustrate stages, both musical and private, of what I believe was Chet Baker's most important creative phase - a phase, however, which has met with little attention in America. More than fifty photographers from all over Europe have contributed their work, representing, at the some time, a chapter of European jazz photography. In the texts, mostly written specifically for this book, many musicians recall their time with the man who was, arguably, jazz’s most lyrical trumpeter. To these photographers and musicians, my special thanks.”

I don't think Chet ever got the respect he really deserved. At times in his life he must hove felt that he was overlooked. To me he was one of the most melodic players, one of the most sensitive players . . . very adventurous and imaginative . . . any superlative I can come up with belongs to him. At the same time, of course, I am fully aware of the fact that he disappointed a lot of people: because his lifestyle was different from that of the so-called average man. But in retrospect I think what stands out is his immense maturity as a melodic player and his contribution to the art form of jazz - which is the art of the individual. As time goes by and you look back at what happened in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, Chet Baker stands out as one of the major artists of the era. -  Niels-Henning 0rsted Pedersen

“When Chet decided that we should play a particular piece it was because at that moment he needed exactly that piece to express himself. For him each piece was a living thing he would return to again and again and whose features, whether happy or sad, he rediscovered every time. He knew the lyrics to almost all of the titles we played, the stories they contained, and in his performances he revived those stories. … His ear was extraordinary, as was his ability to force the audience into listening to what his trumpet and his voice had to say.”
– Enrico Pieranunzi

“Would you like to know how I first met Chet? It was a great surprise for me! I remember looking at the clock when the telephone rang. It was late, 1:30 in the morning. A man with a soft voice and a Western American accent asks me if I am Rocky Knauer. He says that he's calling from Stuttgart and that his name is Chet Baker. Since it had just been my birthday, my first thought was that a friend was putting me on, so I say: "Alright, who is this?" I hear a hearty laugh and then the person on the other end of the line quite quickly convinces me that he really is Chet Baker. He says he is having trouble with his bass player and would I have time to play with him tonight at the AT-Podium? My adrenalin immediately rises and while my heart beats faster I answer: "Yes I do have time and would love to play!" He then explained to me where the club is and which hotel to go to. Since I was too excited to sleep I put on the only Chet Baker record that I had at the time and started to pack the things I'd need that evening. The first thing that struck me was how melodiously and lyrically he played, and that he could really sound like Miles. I could hardly wait to get to the gig!”
- Rocky Knauer [bassist]

“I played with Chet over a period of nine years in varying line-ups, mainly smaller tour bands, from the duo up to sextets. He played melodies with such a musical logic that even in the beginning, when I was only twenty-three years old, I could follow him intuitively, although many of his pieces were still unknown to me.
Moreover, he was the only one who interpreted my compositions exactly the way I had imagined them. He hit the right mood and, during recordings, was very concentrated and serious. After the sessions for the duo album, he said to me: ‘Wolfgang, I'd like to work with you. I like your tunes and your playing and you're a good driver and a good guy to hang out with. So ... do you want to tour with me?’
Of course I was overwhelmed, happy and excited. . .
When we recorded "Why Shouldn't You Cry", the piece did not have a title. I'd only just completed it and had not yet copied out the changes in Bb. I was about to do this when Chet said:’"I don't need changes. I got the melody . . ..’ Of course that says a lot about him and the music itself. If you have the melody you can also master the form and the harmonies, and you don't have to churn out notes according to the dictates of a bunch of harmonic symbols.
After we had recorded the piece our girlfriends and the manager sat in the control room crying. They were so moved by the recording but a little embarrassed, too, that we had caught them in such a vulnerable state. Whereupon we both said, "Why shouldn't you cry?", and that became the title.
- Wolfgang Lackerschmid [vibist]

The first time I met Chet Baker was outside Sweet Silence studios in Copenhagen, where we were to record the "The Touch Of Your Lips" date. The engineer-owner of the studio hadn't shown up yet so we sat outside waiting for him to arrive. Chet struck me as a rather quiet person, at any rate he didn't say much. When the session finally got started he asked, ‘What do you want to play?,’ which surprised me. He did have some music with him, though. I remember suggesting "Autumn In New York". I think he chose the rest of the tunes. Chet was having trouble with his chops although it turned out to be a pretty good session.
He called me about a month later and asked if I would come to Paris and play with him. We did two weeks at the Club St-Germain. The first few days were pretty much like the record date as far as Chet was concerned. Then suddenly one night his chops were fine and he played like a whirlwind, fast long lines with that perfect timing he had. It scared me a bit. I remember thinking, This guy's a giant.'
- Doug Raney [guitarist]

“The first time I met Chet Baker in 1982 was at the ‘Montmartre’ in Copenhagen. That evening, Doug Raney, Horace Parlan, Alex Riel and I formed a quartet that was supposed to accompany Chet.
I had been told that Chet could be very difficult to work with but, that evening, everything fell into place from the very first note that we played, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Later, I had some not so nice experiences with Chet, partly caused by his self-destructive habits, sometimes resulting in him not showing up at concerts, sometimes resulting in performances that did not come up to his normal artistic level.
Anyway, he always managed to get a lot of atmosphere and feeling into his music, no matter the circumstances, and for me it was a great learning experience.
Looking back, it is easier to remember the good than the bad times, and I am proud to have been one of his sidemen.”
- Jesper Lundgaard [bassist]

“What I remember most dearly about Chet is his rigorous musicality; for him everything was music, his mind seemed to be working constantly. In the car we used to sing together, all the time . . . And, of course, the seriousness of his music: every note is weighted, chattiness has no place in his language, everything is reduced to the essential, and that, too, has been considered carefully. He reflected a lot about music although people used to have a different picture of him: ‘Oh well, he plays by ear, he's a great improviser.’ He was thinking about the choice of notes and how they should be arranged in space.
Naturally, I also have a lot of memories on the personal level, after all we worked together for more than ten years. For me he was, quite literally, an outstanding person; he avoided the beaten track, he didn't care about outmoded rules. And he had a generosity, a humanity about him which existed independently from the person that life had treated so badly. He had, in spite of all that, retained a kind of naivety. Sometimes he appeared to me like a medieval knight, with his incredible sense of justice and honor, his amazement at the fact that there were people who were ripping him off.”
– Jean-Louis Rassinforte [bassist]

“Chet was playing a concert in a small club in Amsterdam. There were about 200 people present in a cramped space. By the time I arrived there was an intermission and I found Chet at the entrance door, sweating. He gave me a rueful smile that seemed to allude to the hubbub emanating from the club. We talked for a while and then went in for the next set.
Chet said: "Follow me to the stage, it's the safest place in the joint." The crowd opened up, and there I sat - on Chet's trumpet case. Chet sat down on a chair, as usual. He played a tune, sang another, scatted some, took it out, and then, to my surprise, introduced me to the audience and handed his horn over to me. The mouthpiece was smaller than my own but what else could I do but play? For two tunes I was Chet Baker. It almost made me sing.”
– Evert Hekkema [trumpet/brass player

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