Chet Baker: Chet Baker & Crew

Vinyl reissue of 1956 set that is more East Coast hard bop than West Coast cool and finds the re-energised trumpeter at his most melodic


Frequently reissued over the years, and here in a limited edition, this album was Chet Baker’s first USA recording after a six-month European tour. His lyrical playing had acquired a new-found strength and confidence not always apparent in his earlier work with Gerry Mulligan and Russ Freeman, prompting Nat Hentoff to say in a Downbeat review: “This may well be Baker’s best LP so far.”

Tenor saxophonist Phil Urso worked intermittently with Baker until 1972 and was for a time his musical director. He was a perfect foil and although not as inventive as Zoot Sims, for instance, his playing often recalled Zoot’s dancing tenor lines. (I met him at his Denver, Colorado home a few years before he died where he proudly showed me a letter Baker had sent him from Paris in 1979. It said: “Whenever anyone asks me who my favourite tenor player is the answer is always the same – Phil Urso.”)

Despite its Los Angeles location this recording has a definite East Coast hard-bop vibe far removed from Californian cool. The repertoire too reflects fresh material by Harvey Leonard, Bob Zieff, Phil Urso and Al Cohn which was new to Baker and quite different to the songbook material that had been his standard bill-of-fare. His uptempo work on To Mickey’s Memory, Revelation and Something For Liza is particularly memorable. The tenor man also contributed Halema, which he dedicated to Baker’s wife. They had married two months before this recording, which finds the leader at his most melodic.

On a discographical note, Pacific Jazz released the complete Chet Baker & Crew on CD 82671 in 2003 with the following additional titles: Jumpin’ Off A Clef, Pawnee Junction, Music To Dance By and the curiously titled Chippyin’. The latter was junkie slang for heroin use, an unfortunate reminder that James Bond was the only member of the quintet who was not an addict.

(1) To Mickey’s Memory; (2) Slightly Above Moderate; Halema; Revelation; Something For Liza; Lucious Lu; Worrying The Life Out Of Me; Medium Rock; Line For Lyons (41.02)
(1) Baker (t, v); Phil Urso (ts); Bobby Timmons (p); Jimmy Bond (b); Peter Littman (d); Bill Loughbrough (chromatic tympani). Los Angeles, 24, 25, 31 July 1956. (2) as (1) omit Loughbrough.
Waxtime In Colour 950717LP