I’ve been doing a late-night listening session to Barclay’s Chet Baker Quartet after reading Jeroen De Valk’s biography of Chet Baker, which reads like a harrowing murder mystery. Chet Baker was a brilliant jazz trumpet player that played by ear and couldn’t read music, was a heroin addict, and in many ways, he was an innocent that was unable to take care of himself in the hostile cultural setting of harsh drug laws that crushed hapless addicts in America and Europe by putting them in prison instead of trying to help them. A week after the Barclay recording session for Quartet, Dick Twardzik, an exceptional jazz piano player, died of a heroin overdose. Later Chet would play with another fine jazz piano player, Romano Mussolini, which he would find out was the son of the famous dictator.
Chesney (Chet) Henry Baker Jr. was found dead outside of his Prins Hendrik Hotel room in Amsterdam on May 13, 1988, Ascension Day, at 58 years old. Chet had injected a combination of heroin and cocaine, and the speculation was that he fell from his hotel room window on the third floor to his death on the sidewalk below around 3 in the morning. Passersby walked by Chet, thinking he was a drunk laying on the sidewalk. Rather, he had hit his head on stone posts on the sidewalk in his fall, and laid dying of a brain injury as they walked by.
If you’re interested in Chet Baker’s life and music, I recommend both Jeroen De Valk’s biography and Barclay’s Chet Baker Quartet LP. Be forewarned: the book will give you nightmares – at least it did me. But the Quartet album will sooth your troubled mind, and you’ll wonder what could have been … had not that predator heroin come into the jazz world with such devastation.