From its first appearance in 1954 and down to the present, Chet Baker’s recorded debut as singer and trumpeter has rarely been unavailable. Initially a 10” Pacific Jazz LP with eight tracks, released in 1954, it was augmented to 14 tracks on a 12” World Pacific LP in 1956. We now have its reincarnation in a sumptuous box set which includes the World Pacific album on 180-gram virgin vinyl, a CD containing six “bonus” tracks and an 80-page lavishly illustrated book by Brian Morton – The Making Of Chet Baker Sings, with contributions from Riccardo Del Fra. On all counts, this is carefully sourced and certainly the ”definitive” presentation of a seminal recording.
Although some critics dismissed Baker’s vocals as monotonous and effete, the record-buying public disagreed, and quickly propelled him into superstar status. More discerning commentators welcomed Baker’s unique amalgamation of words and music. Will Friedwald. in his perceptive notes to the Pacific CD The Best Of Chet Baker Sings, commented that [he] “sings out of love for the songs”, and quoted Ornette Coleman to good effect: “Have you heard someone who couldn’t sing, but did something to you emotionally?”
On this LP/CD Baker is accompanied by pianist Russ Freeman, who offers sympathetic accompaniment on piano and celeste, bassists Jimmy Bond, Carson Smith and Joe Mondragon, and (in sequence) drummers Peter Littman, Lawrence Marable, Bob Neele and Shelly Manne. The outstanding (and most famous) tracks are That Old Feeling, But Not For Me, Time After Time, and, of course, My Funny Valentine. On the bonus CD trio tracks, Chet melds his voice and sprightly trumpet into memorable renditions of Daybreak, I Remember You, Just Friends and You Don’t Know What Love Is. On Long Ago And Far Away, his sparkling opening trumpet solo segues into an upbeat vocal, and then a call-and-response cantering ride out with Freeman and co.
Brian Morton, in a curiously discursive essay over-larded with American literary allusions (Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, Dorothy Baker and Scott Fitzgerald), draws more appropriate comparisons with Sinatra, June Christy and Billy Eckstine. He also offers some astute and descriptive judgments. Chet’s early vocals resembled “a chorister fighting against the breaking of his treble”. He was “an improvising singer, but in the sense that he knew how to change the inflection of a word to give it a different musical value” and “seemed to find in jazz an aesthetic that suspended the usual binary divisions of male and female, an intriguing thought when considering the ’feminine’ aspects of Chet’s playing and singing”. He adds that Russ Freeman “was never reconciled to Chet as a vocalist” disliking the fact that he “simply sang the melody line and made no attempt to improvise”. In conclusion, composer and bassist Riccardo Del Fra (who played with Chet in the 80s) contributes some warm reflections on him as singer, trumpeter and “charmer” and a moving poem, Chet In Black & White.
This is an impressive – and expensive – set, worthy of the attention of confirmed Bakerites. The unconvinced and/or impecunious might try one of the many cheaper versions of this material by a singing trumpeter – or trumpeting singer – sometimes compared with (if the antithesis of) Louis Armstrong.
(1) LP: That Old Feeling; It’s Always You; Like Someone In Love; My Ideal; I’ve Never Been In Love Before; My Buddy; But Not For Me; Time After Time; I Get Along Without You Very Well; My Funny Valentine; There Will Never Be Another You; The Thrill Is Gone; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Look For The Silver Lining (40.92)
CD: tracks 1-14 as above plus Daybreak; Just Friends; I Remember You; Let’s Get Lost; Long Ago And Far Away; You Don’t Know What Love Is (66.15)
(1) Baker (t,v); Russ Freeman (p, celeste); Jimmy Bond, Carson Smith, Joe Mondragon (b); Peter Littman, Lawrence Marable, Bob Neele, Shelly Manne (d). Los Angeles, 23 July, 30 July 1956, 15 February 1954, 27 October 1953.
(2) Russ Freeman (p); Carson Smith (b); Bob Neele (d). Los Angeles, 7 March 1955.
Book: The Making Of Chet Baker Sings, by Brian Morton, 80pp.
Jazz Images 37065