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Chet Baker: The Very Best

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Album Review

Chet Baker's recordings for the Pacific Jazz label have gained such legendary tenure that they have practically come to define the L.A. cool jazz scene of the mid-'50s. The Pacific Jazz Years is a four-CD compilation that highlights over three and a half hours of Baker's fluid trumpet and supple vocal work. Over the five-year span (1952-1957) documented on this collection, Baker was incorporated into several unique musical unions. Perhaps the most intriguing were the combos that included Baker and Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax). Among the tracks represented by this short-lived band is the classic "My Funny Valentine," "Freeway," and "My Old Flame." Highlights from Baker's vocal sessions are also included. "Let's Get Lost," "You Don't Know What Love Is," "Grey December," and "But Not for Me" are among the tracks that also feature the Baker-led quartet of Russ Freeman (piano), Carson Smith (bass), and Bob Neel (drums). Likewise, there are several key tracks from the underrated quintet that teamed Baker with Phil Urso (tenor sax) and Art Pepper (alto sax). For hardcore enthusiasts, The Pacific Jazz Years offers several previously unissued sides. "Come Out Wherever You Are," "What's New," and "Half Nelson" are from a June 1953 performance of the legendary Stan Getz/Chet Baker quintet at The Haig in Los Angeles. Additionally, there is a 17-plus-minute live version of "All the Things You Are" that also features Baker and Getz with Freeman, Smith, and Shelly Mann (drums). Accompanying the four-disc set is a 40-page booklet that includes Baker's complete discography and the ageless photography of William Claxton, as well as an informative essay from noted jazz author Ted Giola. The Pacific Jazz Years is an ideal primer for both the curious as well as the Chet Baker collector.


Born: December 23, 1929 in Yale, OK

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

Chet Baker was a primary exponent of the West Coast school of cool jazz in the early and mid-'50s. As a trumpeter, he had a generally restrained, intimate playing style and he attracted attention beyond jazz for his photogenic looks and singing. But his career was marred by drug addiction. Baker's father, Chesney Henry Baker,Sr., was a guitarist who was forced to turn to other work during the Depression; his mother, Vera (Moser) Baker, worked in a perfumery. The family moved from Oklahoma to Glendale,...
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