Documentary on the life of jazz trumpeter and drug addict Chet Baker. Fascinating series of interviews with friends, family, associates and lovers, interspersed with film from Baker's ... See full summary »
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Documentary on the life of jazz trumpeter and drug addict Chet Baker. Fascinating series of interviews with friends, family, associates and lovers, interspersed with film from Baker's earlier life and some modern-day performances. Written by
We have to be grateful to Bruce Weber for giving us this film. Monetary gain could not have figured in on it, as jazz, in spite of the great artists it produces, could never attract the amount of people to make a venture like this profitable. The big bands of the thirties and forties had jazz musicians as members, and did incorporate some jazz solos in their arrangements, but could not be considered a jazz venue. They generated millions of dollars, because the dancing public was so vast, there was no TV, and the leaders were groomed to be lionised like movie stars. (See "The Trouble With Cinderella", Artie Shaw's autobiography on his disenchatment with stardom. Jazz was played in small clubs seating at the most two hundred people, while dance halls could accommodate as much as fifteen hundred dancers. Any footage of an important icon like Chet is welcome, but some scenes are not what they seem. The recording session is a staged event to simulate a record date. The opening scene on the beach sans Chet is gatutitous. Maybe Weber wanted to show the local Southern California beach scene that Chet loved. The scene in an amusement park with a stoned Chet on the "Dodgem" cars is puzzling. "Chet's women" add a great deal of interest to the film. His mother describes how the toddler Chet was transfixed by the sound of the big bands on the radio. Ruth Young daughter of a wealthy Hollywood producer, smitten with Chet and jazz, describes with an unusual lack of bitterness, the insane life of loving a junky, who was really in love with her inheritance and heroin, and made short shrift of her money to finance his drug taking. She sings briefly in the film and I thought showed great promise, but she failed to seek a career in music. Diane Vavra had no money for Chet to squander, but she filled in as someone knowledgable about music to help Chet. Carol Baker, "the long suffering wife" (and how she suffered) gave Chet three beautiful children, who Chet barely noticed, or provided for in his chaotic race to the grave. With all that said, what about the music? Well I can tell you that in an era of great heroic trumpet superstars, like Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Maynard Ferguson, and many others, who could dazzle you with notes in the highest register of the trumpet, and improvise incredible melodies in the upper register, and "scream" above a roaring fifteen piece band, Chet was not in that mode at all. He rarely practiced, had no high register, but wove a soft filagree of delightful improvisations on standard popular songs. In my opinion he reinvented trumpet playing in the fifties. His playing said, "Dizzy's great, but I do it this way." His movie star looks did not hurt his appeal one bit, and his singing which has many detracters, I think will prove to be more appreciated in years to come. I loved every note he played and sang when I first heard him in the fifties, and my appreciation and love for this man, grows every year.
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