Chet Baker in 1983
Born December 23, 1929; died May 13, 1988
Chet Baker was an American jazz trumpeter and vocalist.

Baker earned much attention and critical praise through the 1950s, particularly for albums featuring his vocals (Chet Baker Sings, It Could Happen to You). Jazz historian Dave Gelly described the promise of Baker’s early career as “James Dean, Sinatra, and Bix, rolled into one.” His well-publicised drug habit also drove his notoriety and fame. Baker was in and out of jail frequently before enjoying a career resurgence in the late 1970s and ’80s.

Baker began his musical career singing in a church choir. His father gave him a trombone, which was replaced with a trumpet when the trombone proved too large.

Baker played with Stan Getz and Charlie Parker, and joined the Gerry Mulligan Quartet in 1952. In 1955, he made his acting debut in the film Hell’s Horizon. He declined a studio contract, preferring life on the road as a musician.

Baker used heroin and often pawned his instruments to buy drugs. In 1966, Baker was beaten while attempting to buy drugs, breaking his teeth, making it difficult to play his trumpet. He made a comeback after having dentures fitted.

From 1978 until his death in 1988, Baker lived and played almost exclusively in Europe, returning to the U.S. once a year for a few performances. This was Baker’s most prolific era as a recording artist. In 1983, British singer Elvis Costello, a longtime fan of Baker, hired the trumpeter to play a solo on his song “Shipbuilding” for the album Punch the Clock.

Baker was found dead on the street below his hotel room in Amsterdam, with serious wounds to his head, apparently having fallen from the second floor window. Heroin and cocaine were found in his room and in his body. There was no evidence of a struggle, and the death was ruled an accident. A plaque outside the hotel memorialises him.

 20th Century Highlights (click on album covers to listen on Spotify)

1953: Chet Baker Quartet featuring Russ Freeman

1954: Chet Baker Sings

1959: Chet