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
In the 1950's, cool was the only way to fly, and Chet Baker was what James Dean always wanted to be. Those cool cat days, where the "cool" kids of today would be seen as jerks, sissies, geeks, nerds or worse, had a very restrictive behavioral code...you kept your icy cool at all times in a very narrow emotional range no matter what happened, and never acted beneath your age or silly or goofy, both of which are so commonplace in today's arrested-development kids of all ages. That detached air was the very essence of cool then, along with the ducktail hair, the jeans, the smokes rolled up in a t-shirt sleeve, the coffee bars, the hot rods, and the gals.....with their angora sweaters that balled up when felt up. Those were the glory days shown in this film that were so attractive to us then. Every day a salad day, but those soon turned into grass days and then into poppy days for poor Chet.
Chet was all of that cool cat essence early on, and so much more for jazz lovers, especially in his recordings with Russ Freeman arrangements and accompaniment. The Okie Adonis Baker had almost no education or sophistication and was so easy, soft and simple cool, too simple and easy.......and he became a living sucker perfectly ripe for the easy plucking by promoters, fellow musicians and fame-loving men and women alike. And was he ever plucked, but he didn't resist too much as his soft, sad personality was like a blotter....a reflection of what life happened around him but not a significant happening in itself, other than his unique musical expressions.
In the film, it was plain to see that the last 20 years of his life were the killer drug years, as in 1967-68 he was seen to still look and sound good. It all went downhill from there, but the soul-sensitive voice, the soft trumpet toning that was always more an extension of his voice than a separate instrument, were still intact and probably more sensitive and sadly expressive than ever. Yes, Chet was a sad man of obvious low self esteem common to kids raised in near poverty, but shame and embarrassment for his many flaws had been well beaten out of him by life at the end. He was, as were many in his world, of the character and in the environment that made him an easy target for any addiction that allowed him the freedom to lose himself into his music and be cooler to himself and to the vices common to his world.... fast women, hard drugs, and getting by on his talent alone without having to work hard for a living. Whatever was easiest and felt best was always what Chet did and, and as with many of the most talented in any endeavor, he failed at most of these except for his music, and his resulting God-may-take-me-at-any-time-who-cares? malaise was clearly present and almost pleading for it near the end when answering interviewer questions in a drugged-out stupor.
I think he fell out of that hotel window in one of his drug stupors and died from it, on purpose or not. Simple as that, knowing he was a deep-in-a-dream junkie. No embellishment to it for effect is probable, like he did so often for sympathy or for a few extra bucks he never seemed to save from working a thousand gigs all over the world in 40 years. I just hope his wife Carol and his 3 kids saw some money from the big nostalgia CD sales resulting from this film. They sure looked as though they could use it. From their share of the proceeds from my Chet CD collection alone, they should be a lot better off than they looked in the film.
Roland's on Steiner in the Marina and The University Hideaway on upper Fillmore in San Francisco were my early hangouts in those days, and I can still feel Chet's mood near there on cool, foggy SF evenings that are so common there even if Chet is long gone, along with those old places. With enough time, his many failures in his personal war with life will be forgotten by all until only his great music remains to mark his legend.
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