American-born jazz musician Chet Baker rose to the limelight in the 1950s for his impeccable musical talents. However, the multi-talented music star later gained notoriety due to his long struggle with drugs and numerous run-ins with the law. After surviving a violent attack that left him unable to play the trumpet for a long time, Baker staged a comeback in the late 1970s, which proved to be the most prolific era of his career.
Chet Baker personal life
Chesney Henry “Chet” Baker Jr. was born in Yale, Oklahoma on December 23, 1929. Indeed, his father, Chesney Baker Sr., was a professional guitarist and his mother, Vera Moser, was a pianist.
As expected, young Baker had a natural musical inclination and after joining his church choir, his father presented him with a trombone. The trombone proved too cumbersome for the youngster and was therefore replaced by a trumpet. He then honed his musical skills while attending Glendale Junior High School. However, he left school to join the United States Army at the age of 16 and was deployed to Berlin, Germany.
Baker left the army in 1948, after which he enrolled to study music theory and harmony at El Camino College. He left college in the second year and re-enlisted in the army. There he joined the Sixth Army, the Presidio of San Francisco, and was also opportune to play at several clubs in the area. He eventually dove into music full-time after resigning from the military in 1951.
In the early years of his career, Chet Baker had the opportunity to play with fellow jazz musicians, Vido Musso and Stan Getz, and he also collaborated with Charlie Parker for a series of West Coast shows. In 1952, he formed a quartet with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, bassist Bob Whitlock and drummer Chico Hamilton. Together they become regular performers at the Haig Jazz Club in Hollywood.
Their dates at the club proved to be major record sales and their recordings labeled “The Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker” were also commercially successful. Their providential collaboration ended in mid-1953 when Mulligan was imprisoned for drug offences.
Baker assembled another quartet after Mulligan’s imprisonment and together they recorded several albums between 1953 and 1956. The talented singer released his first vocal album Chet Baker Sings in 1956 which brought him more media attention. Chet Baker sings would later receive the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2001. He was also a major pioneer of the West Coast Jazz subgenre.
Due to her charming appearance, Baker landed several roles after making her film debut in 1956 ‘s Hell’s Horizon. He turned down a long-term contract to embark on an eight-month tour of Europe. Chet Baker in Europe In 1956, after moving to Italy, Baker worked alongside music composer Ezio Leoni alongside his orchestra. They were known as Milano Sessions.
Baker’s career fell on hard times in the early 1960s due to his drug addiction. He was imprisoned in Italy and banned in Germany and the UK for drug-related offences. He settled in Milpitas, California and continued to play, but his woes were far from over. While allegedly trying to buy drugs in 1966, Baker was reportedly beaten up by a gang of thugs and with some of his teeth knocked out, it was nearly impossible for him to play the trumpet.
A few months after the brutal attack, Baker was able to grow a new mouthpiece using dentures. He moved to New York to resume his musical career and then fully settled in Europe in the 1970s. The talented musician remained in Europe from 1978 until his death, returning to the United States only once a year to put on a few shows. These were his most productive years, as he released a large amount of musical recordings under several minor European labels.
These recordings garnered much praise from critics although they did not reach a very wide audience. Among Baker’s later performances was a recording of Christmas music Silent Nights in 1986 in New Orleans, as well as the live album Chet Baker in Tokyo while touring Japan in 1987.
Chet Baker has been involved with several women during his life. He met and married a beautiful Pakistani woman called Halema Alli in 1956. A year later, the couple welcomed their only child, a son named Chesney Aftab Baker. In 1959, Baker left Halema and their son in Paris under the care of Peter Broome. It is unknown if and when their union was officially dissolved, however, but Baker’s son was reportedly adopted by Broome.
In 1964, Chet Baker got married to English actress Carol Ann Jackson whom he had met in 1961. They had 3 children together; sons Dean Baker and Paul Baker and a daughter Melissa. Baker was also involved with many other women, although he never officially divorced Carol Baker.
Cause of death
Chet Baker’s body was discovered on May 13, 1988, in the street below his suite at the Prins Hendrik Hotel, Amsterdam. He suffered serious head injuries and fell from the second story window. Some amounts of hard drugs were found on his body and also in his hotel room and the death was eventually ruled an accident. His remains are interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. A plaque has been commissioned from the Prins Hendrik Hotel, Amsterdam, in his memory.