Friday, March 28, 2008

THE JAZZ TOURIST: Almost Doing Things He Used To Do

by Darren Snow

If I am ever struck with amnesia, there are at least two things I am looking forward to doing. First, I would want to see the Gateway Arch. Having lived in St. Louis all my life, I'm totally used to it, and I have never really gotten to "see it for the first time" as an adult. I suspect it would really freak me a nice way.

Second, I hope I'd get the chance to rediscover music in a more chronological fashion--to hear the inspirations first and the imitations later. To wit, I've been listening to Elvis Costello for thirty years, and I am only just now getting familiar with the music of the late Chet Baker--someone Costello admired greatly and collaborated with briefly. Here's the trouble: Whenever Chet, as a vocalist, hits one of those trademark low, bluish notes that makes your heart drop into your stomach, all I can hear is that trick Costello employed to make "Almost Blue" sound like a Chet Baker song. (Which it eventually became.) How can I ever immerse myself fully in the luxurious melancholy of a Chet Baker ballad if part of me will always be blurting out "I see what ya did there, Elvis!"

Anyway, the Chet record on the turntable presently is Live in Europe 1956. (It's out of print on CD, but Euclid's got the LP in stock at the moment.) Recorded in Florence with a band of primarily French extraction, it contains two long uptempo instrumentals and a couple of typically cool-but-heartbreaking vocals: "This Is Always" and "You Don't Know What Love Is." The performances are uniformly solid, and the mix is just a tad muffled; it's not distracting at all after a minute or two of acclimation, and while Chet and tenor-homme Jean-Louis Chautemps are bit farther in front of the rhythm section that we're used to, it just adds to the you-are-there ambience.

One of my favorite things about this record, though--at least on the 1982 Musidisc pressing I'm enjoying--is the liner notes. They're mostly in Italian, but there's one paragraph in charmingly broken English that's a little awkward but certainly gets the point across. Here it is in full, typos and all:

"Chesney Henry 'Chet' Baker, trumpet, flugelhorn, singer, born Yale, Oklahoma 12/23/29. Discovered by Charlie Parker but really popular in 1952/53 trough his association with the Gerry Mulligan quartet. Very young, he ran into the narcotics problem that had interfered with his career but never with his music. Basically, Chet is a genius, propably the most exciting trumpet player in the whole world. Miles was greater, Diz was greater, but Chet has something else may be one kind of tenderness and humanity. Chet can't play for the bread, he plays his life. Like a lot of introvert guys, he must communicate."


Euclid Joe said...

The full Europe recordings are being issued next month in box set form. Essential Chet and the final recordings of the wonderful and very tragic Dick Twardzik.

Euclid Joe

Anonymous said...

The first two paragraphs of this post summed up my fee lings on a WIDE range of topics, musical and otherwise. Boy , you nailed it. Thank you for the wonderful read. Oh, and tho it is irreleveant here, the Costello album of country tunes (the title escapes me right now)was a travesty and confirmed for me that English folk just should not attempt country songs, Stones and Mekons included. It totally blew.