Chet Baker: As Though I Had Wings

Baker, Chet

Published by St. Martin's Griffin, 1998
ISBN 10: 0312200838 / ISBN 13: 9780312200831
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Synopsis: The beloved yet infamous Chet Baker—trumpeter, crooner, junkie, and doomed James Dean-like icon of 1950s jazz—has always projected an air of mystery (and even more so, perhaps, in the years since his death in the late 1980s). In these recently uncovered diary-entries, the mystery fades as we find that Baker's pure trumpeting, aching vocals, and now-classic renditions of many jazz standards all belie the turmoil of a wretched private life governed by addiction and abandon.

Baker dominated the jazz scene of the 1950s, working closely with the likes of Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, and Stan Kenton. By the Sixties, however, he found himself caught in an incessantly downward spiral of heroin, cocaine, and prescription drugs. In and out of jail, in and out of relationships, criss-crossing the Atlantic, looking for gigs in the States and in Europe, searching of some sort of redemption—such is the life we encounter firsthand in these pages.

This memoir is must-reading for all students of jazz history and modern American pop culture.

Review: Chet Baker, poster child for West Coast Cool Jazz and patron saint of its notorious lush life, kept a diary. Published by his estate and introduced by his widow, his entries have been tailored to a memoir of his life from 1946 to 1963. These are the years of his rise to stardom in music and movies--and his tumble into the trenches of incarceration and drug abuse. The book is divided into 13 quick-reading chapters in which Baker writes of his life as a musician, all seasoned with tales of drugs, prison terms, and a laundry list of romances. Often, though, his writings are not spicy enough; births, deaths, pregnancies, and car chases are noted without much detail. What must have been extremely charged times are written about with a kind of academic disinterest: "Moving quickly toward the noise, as did everyone else, I saw Dick lying on the floor. He had passed out cold, and several people were trying to figure out what was wrong with him. We located a doctor and cleared the stage area. I should point out that Dick had always taken care of business; always at work on time and always playing exceptionally." While some readers may be disappointed by the lack of layered passion one hears in Baker's voice or in the smooth and solid sound of his horn, there is still considerable value in reading his own account of his story.

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Chet Baker: As Though I Had Wings
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: 1998
Book Condition: Fair
Edition: 1st.

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