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Early Chet

On 5 September 1955, Chet Baker landed at Orly airport in Paris. It was to be the start of his first major European tour with his quartet. Chet was in a hurry to get to Paris. His reason was Liliane, an attractive Parisian he had got to know at Birdland in New York City and in whom he had fallen head over heels in love. When Liliane’s visa for the United States expired, the 25-year-old Baker decided on the spur of the moment to follow her to Paris. Isn’t It Romantic? As the Richard Rodgers song goes – a number featured on this LP. As trumpeter in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Chet Baker had first played his way into the hearts of fans in 1952 with lyrical ballads and a soothing tone. He gained fame seemingly overnight and in 1954 was voted best trumpeter by readers of the leading US jazz magazines – ahead of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. The gentle poet of the trumpet – that was his image. So it came as something of a surprise for European audiences to hear the Chet Baker they discovered at his live concerts: a trumpeter with a decisive attacca style and lively boppy lines, accompanied by a pianist who combined innovative harmonies with bizarre rhythms and a drummer who propelled the band with a hard, driving beat. No one was prepared for this Chet Baker Quartet, featuring pianist Dick Twardzik, bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Peter Littman. Bockhanal gives us a chance to experience the same sense of surprise: the Chet Baker Quartet with the Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra in what is possibly their only joint concert. Full of energy and melodic wit, Chet Baker flies through the piece written by his friend Jack Montrose, in a new interpretation by the Edelhagen band. Bockhanal is the earliest number on Early Chet and a particularly valuable rarity: just four weeks after this concert, the quartet no longer existed. Aged just 24, the pianist Dick Twardzik died of a drug overdose in Paris on 21 October 1955.

Chet Baker continued his European tour with a variety of accompanying musicians. And every so often as a soloist. He was also a welcome guest of Joachim-Ernst Berendt, the so-called “pope of jazz” at SWF, who would invite Baker on two further occasions to Baden-Baden to record with the Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra, the SWF Big Band. For this, Kurt Edelhagen chose standards that made Chet Baker feel audibly at home. Baker ’56 is the only original composition written for the session. Chet Baker openly acknowledged his debt to Miles Davis, whose influence is particularly tangible in the solo numbers with orchestra. The idea of recording singer Caterina Valente in duet with Chet Baker was also ahead of its time: I’ll Remember April and Every Time We Say Goodbye. “Just Caterina and Chet – no one else. A meeting of ultimate refinement and ultimate simplicity,” wrote Joachim-Ernst Berendt. In these intimate duets, Chet Baker plays trumpet as only he knows how: delicate, melodic, supple. It sounds like a trumpet of blue velvet. Chet Baker flew back to the United States in April 1956, shortly after completing these recordings

In July 1959 he headed back to Europe. This time his reason lacked the romance of a few years earlier – his desire to be with Liliane. Drug addiction had landed Chet Baker with a four-month sentence at New York’s Rikers Island prison. He had also lost his cabaret card, the licence that enabled him to perform in the New York clubs. With that, he had also lost his livelihood. So when an invitation came his way to play in Italy and from there to embark on a solo of tour Europe, he was all too happy to accept. He also made recordings whenever there was something for him to record. And he returned to Baden-Baden. This time with the Rolf-Hans Müller Orchestra, which had prepared for Chet Baker four atmospheric ballads for big band plus strings. Here, too, Baker found turns of phrase as a soloist that made familiar numbers sound fresh and original. Particularly convincing are his performances in Polka Dots And Moonbeams. And in Autumn in New York he coolly rubs against the grain. In a spontaneous final cadence, “Early Chet” sets out his personal agenda: to communicate real depth using few notes.

 
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