[Today: The ghost of Chet Baker…]
In general I’m a big fan of Chet Baker’s music. Most everything he made before 1970 is worth a spin, and although his stuff with strings is a little trying, his recordings with Gerry Mulligan rank as some of the greatest music ever preserved on tape. But by 1987, when much of this music was recorded, he was spent both musically and physically. Listening to these songs is a grueling experience for anyone, but particularly for a Baker fan who knows what he sounded like in the 50’s and 60’s and can weigh how much his skills had deteriorated in the intervening decades.
Chet Baker Sings And Plays From The Film “Let’s Get Lost” is a selection of songs from a 1989 documentary that follows Baker during the last years of his life and juxtaposes that footage with images of his younger self. Baker was a longtime heroin addict, and by the 1980’s his personal habits had taken an obvious toll on his music and appearance – by the time these songs were recorded, he looked ravaged by time, and could barely carry a tune. ‘Moon & Sand (Motivo di Raggi di Luna)’ is a slurred mess, ‘For Heaven’s Sake’ sounds like an inebriated and unskilled Chet Baker impersonator (although his trumpet work on this song is the highlight of the album), and the rest veers between sloppy and sleepy.
I’ve not seen the accompanying documentary, so perhaps I’m missing the visual context that gives this music its purpose. Director Bruce Weber was responsible for all the iconic black and white 50’s photos of Baker that have helped shape his pretty-boy jazz legend. Weber was reportedly interested in contrasting the young, handsome Baker with the scarred mess that he’d become. Cinematically that’s all well and good, but musically it’s a big fat downer. Baker’s horn doesn’t sound bad, but his voice – not great to begin with – is beyond shot, and unfortunately he sings on almost every song here. And while tracks like ‘Blame It On My Youth’ have a certain poignancy that would serve as excellent anti-drug messages, I can’t imagine Let’s Get Lost is anybody’s idea of a good time.