American-born jazz musician Chet Baker came to the fore in the 1950s because of his impeccable musical talent. Later, however, the multi-talented music star gained certain notoriety due to his protracted battle with drugs and multiple run-ins with the law. After surviving a fierce attack in which he was unable to play the trumpet for a long time, Baker made a major comeback in the late 1970s, which proved to be the most productive era of his career.
Chet Baker Personal Life
Chesney Henry “Chet” Baker Jr. was born on December 23, 1929, in Yale, Oklahoma. He must indeed have inherited a number of musical genres, as his father Chesney Baker Sr. was a professional guitarist and his mother Vera Moser a pianist.
As expected, the young Baker had a natural inclination for music, and after joining his church choir, his father gave him a trombone. The trombone proved to be too cumbersome for young Baker and was therefore replaced by a trumpet. While attending Glendale Junior High School, he continued to refine his musical skills. However, at the age of 16, he left school to join the United States Army and was transferred to Berlin, Germany.
Baker left the army in 1948, whereupon he enrolled in music theory and harmony studies at El Camino College. In the second year, he left the college and re-enrolled in the army. There he joined the Sixth Army Band, the Presidio of San Francisco, and had the opportunity to play in several clubs in the area. After being discharged from the military in 1951, he eventually became a full-time musician.
In the early years of his career, Chet Baker performed with his fellow jazz musicians Vido Musso and Stan Getz, and he also worked with Charlie Parker on a number of shows on the West Coast. In 1952 he formed a quartet with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, bassist Bob Whitlock, and drummer Chico Hamilton, and together they performed regularly at the Haig Jazz Club in Hollywood.
Their club dates proved to be sold out, and their recordings with the label “The Gerry Mulligan Quartet Featuring Chet Baker” were also commercially successful. Their happy collaboration ended in mid-1953 when Mulligan went to jail for drug offenses.
After Mulligan’s imprisonment, Baker formed another quartet, and together they recorded several albums between 1953-56. The talented singer released his first vocal album, Chet Baker Sings, in 1956, which brought him more media attention. Chet Baker Sings was later to receive the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2001. He was also an important pioneer of the West Coast jazz sub-genre.
Thanks to his charming appearance, Baker was given a number of acting roles after his 1956 film debut in Hell’s Horizon. He turned down a long-term acting contract to go on an 8-month tour of Europe in 1956, which took Chet Baker through Europe in 1956. After moving to Italy in late 1959, Baker worked with the music composer Ezio Leoni at the side of his orchestra and they were known as the Milano Sessions.
Baker’s career experienced some tough years in the early 1960s due to his drug addiction. He was in prison in Italy and was expelled from Germany and the United Kingdom for drug offenses. He settled and continued to perform in Milpitas, California, but his suffering was far from over. In 1966, while allegedly trying to buy drugs, Baker was beaten up by a bunch of thugs, knocking out a few teeth, making it almost impossible for him to play the trumpet afterward.
A few months after the brutal attack, Baker succeeded in developing a new approach with the help of dentures. He moved to New York to resume his music career and later moved completely to Europe in the 1970s. The talented musician stayed in Europe from 1978 until his death and returned to the USA only once a year to perform a few shows. These proved to be his most productive years, as he released a large number of music recordings under several smaller European labels.
These recordings were highly praised by the critics, although they did not reach a very wide audience. Baker’s last performances included a recording of the Christmas music Silent Nights 1986 in New Orleans and the live album Chet Baker in Tokyo during a tour in Japan in 1987.
Chet Baker has been with several women during his life. He met and married a beautiful Pakistani woman named Halema Alli in 1956. A year later, the couple welcomed their only child together, a son named Chesney Aftab Baker. In 1959 Baker left Halema and her son in Paris in the care of Peter Broome. It remains unclear if and when their relationship was officially dissolved, but it is said that Baker’s son was adopted by Broome.
In 1964 Chet Baker married the English actress Carol Ann Jackson, whom he had met in 1961. Together they had 3 children; sons Dean Baker and Paul Baker and a daughter Melissa. Baker was also together with many other women, although he never officially divorced Carol Baker.
Cause of Death
The body of Chet Baker was discovered on May 13, 1988, in the street under his suite at the Prins Hendrik Hotel in Amsterdam. He had serious injuries to his head and was estimated to have fallen out of the window on the second floor. On his body and also in his hotel room, certain amounts of hard drugs were discovered, and the death was eventually classified as an accident. His remains are buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. A plaque has been placed in his memory at the Prins Hendrik Hotel in Amsterdam.